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Perfect Love: Ch. 9 of “New Testament Holiness”

This entry is part 12 of 28 in the series New Testament Holiness

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Thomas Cook

Graphic for the title of this chapter, 'CHAPTER_NAME', part of the book 'New Testament Holiness' by Thomas Cook“Love cannot treat its Lord meanly.
She will not give Him the remnant,
the drift, and the dregs of life.”

In the New Testament there are two words for love. One is philos, which is the word used to express natural human affection. This exists in greater or less degree throughout the entire animal kingdom, including all natural affections of human nature apart from Divine grace. The other word, agape, is invariably used to express a Divine affection, imparted to the soul by the Holy Ghost. Natural love existed within us before we were regenerated, as it exists in human nature generally; but of Divine love we had none until we were born into the Kingdom of God. The love of God was then “shed abroad in our hearts” [Romans 5:5], and by this alone can we claim the title of children of God, as partakers of His nature [cf. 2 Peter 1:4]. “The love of God here means not our love to God, nor exactly the sense of God’s love to us, but God’s love itself for us.” “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us” [1 John 3:1], not manifested or demonstrated, but bestowed, imparted, given to us as a gift. What a wonderful truth this is, that God’s love for us shall be in us, and become our love to others. Was this not what our Lord asked for when He prayed, “that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” [John 17:26]? The truth declared is that God gives us His love to love with; He has made His love our property, absolutely given it to us, so that it is now ours. Who can tell all that this means? Inspiration itself can only find relief in adoring gratitude. “Behold what manner of love.”

Perhaps we shall now better understand the new commandment to love “as I have loved you” [John 13:34; 15:12]. On Calvary we see love stronger than death. There we learn what love really is, and what it can do. When that same love drives our chariot wheels, we shall be ready to do as He did. It is where sacrifice begins that the proof of love begins. We must not offer, either to God or man, what costs nothing [2 Samuel 24:24]. The noblest thing in God’s world is a lavished life. Carnal selfish men cannot understand the service and sacrifice of those

Who spend their lives for others,
With no ends of their own.

But when our love is in kind like His, we cannot help doing it. Our “must” then is like the “must” of God. God must give His love whether souls accept it or not. Let the love of Christ, the most sublime of all motives, and the glory of Christ, the most sublime of all ends, become the ruling principle of action, and who can help living magnanimously for man and for God?

More of Christ’s love in our hearts means always increased sympathy with His dominant passion, the salvation of the lost. There is a grave mistake somewhere when a person imagines that he has mounted up to the plane of the “higher life,” and feels no quickened impulse towards those who are perishing in their sins around him. Zeal in soul-winning is only love on fire. Give us more of the hidden fire, and all the rest will follow.

In serving the poor, the suffering, and the lost, we serve Him, and nothing is counted too good for Him by those who are filled with His sanctifying love. We prove our love to Christ by what we do for our fellow-creatures. Love cannot treat its Lord meanly. She will not give Him the remnant, the drift, and the dregs of life. Giving of our surplus is no proof of love at all. She always offers the most that is possible, and the best. The one motive that has the power to lift us out of self, and to exalt life to its highest and loftiest phase, is a heart brimful of love to Christ. “For Christ’s sake.” These three little words are the touchstone of love.

Jeremy Taylor3 represents Ivo4 as going on an embassy to St. Louis,5 and meeting a strange woman, who had fire in one hand and water in the other. He asked what these strange symbols meant, and she replied: “With fire I shall burn up heaven, and with water quench the flames of hell, that men may serve God without incentives, either of hope or fear, for His own sake.” This is what Perfect Love does. If there were no heaven, and it there were no hell, hearts filled with the love of God would serve Him just the same. Love service is the spontaneous, glad offering of a grateful heart, like that of the woman who broke the box of ointment and poured it on the head of Christ [Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9]. It is not clearer views of our duty to God that will win us over to new obedience; but as the love of Jesus floods our souls, as a deeper, fuller, and ever augmenting stream, the life of duty becomes transformed into a life of liberty and delight.

“Perfect love casteth out fear” [1 John 4:18]. The two words “love” and “fear,” placed in contrast in this Scripture, represent the two different motives that may actuate us in Christian service. Some serve from love, as Jacob did in the pastures of Laban [Genesis 29:18-20]; and some from fear, like the Hebrews in the brickfields of Egypt [Exodus 1:13-14]. Mrs. Pearsall Smith6 puts the difference well; it is simply the difference between “may I” and “must I,” between enjoyment and endurance. In law service we do our duty, but too often as the unwilling schoolboy creeps off to school; but in love service the will is won, and we do our work not like the slave under the lash, but with eagerness and joy.

How sluggishly the men in yonder workshop are using their tools; how they weary for the hour of dismissal to strike! But after they have rushed away home, you might have seen one youth remaining, singing at his work; and when you asked the reason, he sweetly said: “Those others are hirelings, paid by the hour, but I have an interest in the business; it is my father’s business, and a loving father he has been to me.” Alas, how many Christians forget that they are sons, and they work for wages as hirelings do. Perhaps in most Christians the two motives exist together—the pure gold of love is mingled with the dross of fear in service; but when our love is “made perfect,” our will elects God’s will with unspeakable gladness. We shall keep the law then, not from dread of its penalties, but from love for the law itself, and the Lawgiver. Filled with Divine love, we love what God loves, and in this condition the will of God is no longer as a yoke upon the neck; Christ’s service is perfect freedom. Faber7 sings:

He hath breathed into my heart
A special love of Thee,
A love to lose my will in His,
And by the loss be free.

This is not freedom from law; that would be license. Nor is it being under law; that would be bondage. It is being inlawed, God putting the law into our love, so that we keep it from our very love of it, by a glad assent and as naturally as water runs downhill. Before we reach this experience we are often like a man carrying a burden uphill; but when we reach the place of love-service the burden and the hill suddenly disappear, and we can joyfully appropriate the words of the Son of God, and say, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart” [Psalm 40:8].9

The old Covenant was an outside, coercive force, a law written in stone. The new Covenant is written in the heart, rectifying and inspiring all the springs of action. God fulfills the promise of the new Covenant, “I will put my law into your hearts” [Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10;10:16], when His love is so fully shed abroad in the heart of the believer as to effect a complete release from the fear of the law as a motive to obedience.

Never until the love of God becomes the all-absorbing, all-controlling, dominating principle of life, can we understand the seeming contradiction in Psalm cxvi. 16:

O Lord, truly I am Thy servant;
I am Thy servant,
And the son of Thine handmaid:
Thou hast loosed my bonds.”

But when every faculty is energised, every capacity filled, and the whole nature pervaded with this transcendent gift, the bondage, the irksomeness, the subtle legalism which more or less characterise the service of incipient10 believers, are entirely removed. The yoke of Christ no longer chafes, the last trace of servile feeling is gone, and the will of God becomes our free, spontaneous, delightful choice. We can sing then, not as mere poetic fancy, but as a glorious experimental reality—

I worship Thee, sweet will of God,
And all Thy ways adore;
And every day I live, I seem
To love Thee more and more.11

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But do you ask, “How am I to enter into this blessed experience? We brace our wills to secure it. We try to copy those who have it. We lay down rules about it. We watch, we pray; but these things do not bring the fulness of love into our souls.” Love is never produced by straining and struggling, or by any direct action of the soul upon itself. “A man in a boat cannot move it by pressing from within.” Love is an effect, and here is the cause. We receive love when we receive God. If we would have love we must seek Him. God is love, and love is God. More love means more of God. Perfect love means that we have opened all the avenues of our being, and that He has come and taken possession of every chamber.  Some writer has said, “Take love from an angel and you have a devil, take love from a man and you have a brute, take love from God and there is nothing left.” When Sir James Mackintosh12 was dying, a friend saw his lips move, and when the ear was put down it caught the whisper, “God—Love—the very same.” Yes, love is the only word convertible with God. It is not His mere name, but His nature—His being—Himself. When He comes to the heart, He comes not empty-handed. He brings His love with Him, and that consciously received, produces a corresponding and answering love in our hearts to Him. Says Lange,13

When God’s love to us comes to be in us, it is like the virtue which the loadstone gives to the needle, inclining it to move towards the pole.14

There is no need to ask whether the perfect love of which St. John speaks [1 John 4:18] means Christ’s love to us, or our love to Christ. It is both. The recognition of His love, and the response of ours, are the result of His entering and abiding in the heart. “He that has made his home in love, has his home in God, and God has His home in him” [1 John 4:16].


  1. Annotations by Jim Kerwin, and are copyrighted along with his other contributions to the print and e-book versions of New Testament Holiness.
  2. Graphic created by Jim Kerwin using a 2014 photo by Denise Kerwin of a Caribbean sunrise.
  3. Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), in his life of ministerial service, was an Anglican vicar, chaplain to King Charles I, a prisoner of war during the English Civil War, and later a bishop. His three best-known works are The Liberty of Prophesying (1647, a treatise on preaching), Holy Living (1650), and Holy Dying (1651). His prose style was considered so beautiful that he was known as “the Shakespeare of English divines.”
  4. Ivo, bishop of Chartres (1040-1116), was a French Catholic, who served first as parish priest, then a leader among the Augustinian monks, before finally being raised to the bishopric. He was a knowledgeable and learned man, whose advice was sought both by French royalty and various ecclesiastical councils.
  5. Not a place called St. Louis, but King Louis IX of France (1214-1270, ruler of France from 1226-1270). Known for great piety in his lifetime, he was canonized (i.e., made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church) in 1297. A careful footnote reader will have already noted that Ivo died almost one hundred years before Louis was born, but as the tale Taylor tells is a parable, the import of it loses nothing, despite the anachronism.

    Obviously, “St. Louis” the man came first — then the place names. In the U.S.A. alone we find San Luis Rey (“St. Louis the King”) in California; Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis, Missouri; and Louisiana (both the state and the immense tract of Mississippi river basin land known to students of American history as the Louisiana Purchase). The latter three were originally named (not surprisingly) by French Catholic explorers and traders.

  6. Assuming “Pearsall” is a typo for Piersall, Cook is referring to Mrs. Robert Piersall Smith, better known by readers of classical “deeper life” literature as Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911), an influential figure in the founding of the annual Keswick Conferences. Her most famous book (and very worthwhile reading) is The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, first published in 1875 and still in print today.
  7. Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863) is a unique character in the history of hymnody. Faber was first an Anglican vicar and then converted to Roman Catholicism in 1846. Only after this great transition did he find the impetus and inspiration for writing hymns (three books of hymns in all), partly in reaction to the great scarcity of English hymns for his parishioners. He is remembered today for such classic hymns as Faith of Our Fathers, I Worship Thee, Sweet Will of God, O How the Thought of God Attracts, There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy, and Workman of God.
  8. This is verse three of Faber’s hymn I Worship Thee, Sweet Will of God.
  9. Cook makes reference to the fact that the writer to the Hebrews presents Jesus as quoting Psalm 40:6-8. See Hebrews 10:5-7, and verses 8-10, where the author elaborates more on several phrases. Careful readers will notice a difference: the Hebrews passage says, “Behold, I come…to do Thy will, O God;” whereas the passage in Psalms inserts, “Behold, I come…I delight to do Thy will, O my God.” The reason is this: the version of the Old Testament you use was translated from the Hebrew, whereas the writer of the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews employed a Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (or LXX—the Roman numeral for 70, the number of Jewish scholars who reportedly worked on this translation around 200 b.c.).
  10. incipient: beginning to come into being or beginning to become apparent; in this context, new believers
  11. This is verse one of Faber’s hymn I Worship Thee, Sweet Will of God.
  12. Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832) was born in Scotland and rose to fame in Britain as a historian, public servant, and statesman, serving in Parliament.
  13. No doubt this is Johann Peter Lange (1802-1884), a German theologian best known in North America for his twenty-five volume commentary on the Bible (translated from the German by Philip Schaff from the original work entitled Theologischhomiletisches Bibelwerk).
  14. Yes, these words appear in Lange's commentary on the Gospel of John, in his notes on John 17:26. But it is actually an unattributed word-for-word quotation from the commentary by Matthew Henry (who died almost 90 years before Lange was born) on the same passage.
Series Navigation<< A God-Possessed Soul: Ch. 8 of “New Testament Holiness”Evangelical Perfection: Ch. 10 of “New Testament Holiness” >>
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