by WILLIAM LYON PHELPS
has also written HAPPINESS Published by E. P. DUTTON & CO., INC.
By William Lyon Phelps LAMPSON PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AT YALE UNIVERSITY AUTHOR OF "HAPPINESS," ETC.
LOVE, COPYRIGHT, 1928 , BY E. P. DUTTON & CO., INC, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ..PRINTED IN U.S.A
First Printing....... September, 1928
Second Printing .....,.. September, 1928
Third Printing ......... September, 1928
Fourth Printing ...... September, 1928
Fifth Printing ........ September, 1928
Sixth Printing....... September,1928
Seventh Printing ...... September, 1928
Eighth Printing ......... October, 1928
Ninth Printing .......... October, 1928
Tenth Printing ......... October, 1928
Eleventh Printing ........ October, 1928
Twelfth Printing ........ October. 1928
NICODEMUS THE Scholar, a man of eminence and authority among the Jews, came to see Jesus by night. Why he chose the night no one knows; perhaps he wished to secure an uninterrupted interview, for during the day the Master was followed by importunate crowds. Possibly he feared some of his acquaintances might see him if he went by day, and he might therefore lose intellectual respect or social prestige.Perhaps he merely wanted a long and revealing talk, believing that the silent hours of the night beget intimacy. Little did the proud Pharisee imagine that when he acted on that impulse and called on the Teacher, he himself would be immortalised; yet such is the fact, for the words spoken on that memorable evening are heard and read today in the farthest corners of the earth.
What Nicodemus himself said is not so often quoted; yet he gave; a description of the Master that has perhaps never been surpassed; a description and a definition on which many Christians with divergent views today might unite. People differ very much as to what place in history should be given to Him, as to whence He came and who He was and as to His credentials.
But Nicodemus said, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God."How did Nicodemus know that? Well, how do we know in talking with a golf professional that he is a Scotsman? How do we know that a man is a Southerner? We know it by his accent, by his manner of speech, sometimes by the expression of his face or the cast of his features. The face and language of Jesus betrayed the country whence He came. The radiance of His countenance, the authoritative and yet tender tones of His voice, showed that the country of His origin was beyond the bounds of earthly geography. He brought into this world a divine atmosphere.
In the first act of the opera Lohengrin, when the solitary and apparently defenceless maiden Elsa is denounced by Telramund, she agrees, somewhat to the general consternation, to submit her cause to the ordeal of trial by combat. The trumpets sound, and there is silence. Who will be her champion? Again the trumpets sound. We hear the thrilling violins, and in the distance we see approaching a knight in silver armour. Elsa calls him the Divine Ambassador, der Gottgesandte; on his face and shining armour is the light that never was on sea or land.
Although Jesus was the ambassador from the kingdom of God to the kingdom of this world, and came to reveal to the children of men His Father's will, He never seemed interested in politics or in forms of government. No political party can claim Him. He was not a Conservative or a Radical, not a Republican or a Democrat or a Socialist. He came not to upset the structure of society, but to appeal to every individual human heart. He turned our sense of values upside down. Every valley shall be exalted, every hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. In this sense He was a revolutionist. He wished to establish a revolution in every individual mind; to change it from cowardice to courage, from slavery to independence, from vulgarity to beauty, from selfishness to unselfishness.
This Teacher who came from God was a specialist; He taught only one subject. The entire course of study contains only three words, but it takes a lifetime to learn it, and only a minority become experts. God is love. As I understand it, this is not intended to be a pretty or sentimental speech. It is not meant to be an optimistic motto, something to hang on the wall of an office, with the hope that it may kindle to renewed activity the flagging spirits of the observer. It is a philosophical principle, a core of thought. The Power whose influence is dimly discerned behind appearances, the Power that holds the stars in their places, the Power that controls the rise and ebb of the tides, the Power that keeps in accurate running order the mechanism of the universe, that Power is Love.
Hence one who loves God and his fellowmen is in connexion with the motive energy of the universe, with the Supreme Law.
What happens to a person when that idea enters and dominates his mind? Charles Dickens, who understood it better than most novelists, has given us plenty of illustrations, of which we may take one of the most familiar. On the day before Christmas, the financier Scrooge was, even for him, in a particularly unpleasant temper. One is apt to be like that, when one is out of sympathy with the prevailing mood of society. Scrooge in normal weather had the heart of a fish. He was not what we call responsive, demonstrative, expansive. He was acquisitive without being curious; he was not interested in what human beings were actually worth, but only in what they might be worth to him. When he entered a room men felt as one feels on the deck of a ship at night, in the proximity of an iceberg. Every one who met him was chilled and uncomfortable, and his departure brought a sense of relief.
Yet although every one who met him was ill at ease, he was more unhappy than they. They could escape him and his atmosphere; he could not run away from himself. In a dream that night true religion was revealed to him. He was born again. When he opened the window in the morning, the face of the world was changed. He thought it was a marvellous day. He saw a boy crossing the street and he thought him a marvellous boy. What a remarkable, what an unusual boy! His daily life became filled with zest and gusto; everything began to seem exciting, with a tang of adventure. For Scrooge there were no more dull days. Casual strangers on the street saluted him with a smile as of recognition, called forth by his radiant vitality. This is what happens when the love-lesson is learned and put into practice; it should always happen when one really "gets" religion. Scrooge had never imagined there could be such happiness merely in loving. For love is like an efficient furnace that warms every room of a large building.
The scientific evolutionists tell us that it has taken millions and millions of years to change an animal into a man. Love can do that in one second. When that predatory animal, Jean Valjean, stole the candlesticks in the night in the Bishop's House, and was caught next day by the police, they dragged him back to the Bishop's front door, with the evidences of his crime. The Bishop took a look at the wretched creature, and said to the policemen, "Why, I gave him those candlesticks." He lied like a gentleman, like a Christian.
The police are never shocked or puzzled by displays of vice and cruelty; their calloused eyes have looked on human nature at its worst. The only way to shock a policeman is to give him an exhibition of unexpected kindness or generosity. In this instance they were frankly amazed. But the Man of God insisted, and the officers of the law went away shaking their puzzled heads. Then the Bishop put his hand on the dull thief's shoulder and said, "Jean Valjean, my brother! you belong to God now." At that moment divine love entered his heart and changed him from an animal into a man. Love can do this, for it has transforming power. It can change a coward into a hero; it can change a despondent woman into a being full of zest, and it can do it in a moment.
Love is the only genuine test. Two hundred years ago many serious-minded people were agitated by this question-do I or do I not belong to the elect? Am I saved or am I damned? Well, the apostle John has given us in one of his letters a test at once simple and infallible; there can be no possible mistake. We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. If we have love in the heart, sincere, unalloyed affection for others, free from hatred or jealousy, without a shade of resentment, then we know we are Christians. It is a searching test.