Abstract of a Sermon Preached on November 14, 1999
Love has been called “the greatest thing in the world,” but whatever may be said on that score, it is certain that it is often the most foolish thing in the world. “No folly like being in love,” an old proverb says, and there is a reason for this folly. When I used to listen to the ungodly radio, when I was an ungodly youth, there was a song then popular which said, “…my heart over-ruled my head, many, many tears ago.” This is the foolishness of love. When the heart runs free, without the control of the head—-when love is not regulated by reason, or when love sets aside reason—-it becomes a very foolish thing, and a very harmful thing besides.
Now there are two manners in which the foolishness of love manifests itself, and I am at a loss to know which of them is the most foolish. The first is that love is sometimes unable to see the faults of the one it loves. “Love is blind.” The doting mother can see no wrong in her darling child. The girl whose heart is smitten by love can see no wrong in the fellow who has taken her heart. I once ran across a little piece of paper, written by one of these love-smitten girls. In the center was the young man's name in large letters, and all around it such things as “sweet, nice, lovable, cute, darling”—-and, to top all, “perfect”! Perhaps if she knew him better she would delete that one, but perhaps not. This is the foolishness of love. The one who loves can see no wrong in the party she loves. Whatever he does is right, and will be excused and defended and justified, not because there is anything of right in it, but because of who it is who does it.
But the foolishness of love shows itself in another way also. Love is not only blind, but soft also. While some can see no wrong in the ones they love, others can plainly see the wrong, but they refuse to deal with it. They see the naughtiness of their darling son, but they will not spank him. They see the wrong course which their friend takes, but they will not faithfully reprove her. This is hard. This will make the poor thing feel bad, and what she needs is sympathy and understanding. She needs to be soothed and encouraged, and those unfeeling souls who reprove her simply fail to understand her.
This is the foolishness of love. Love is blind, and where it can see, love is soft, and I tell you, I really cannot tell which of these is the most foolish. When I look at the blindness of love, I think, surely this is the extreme of folly, but when I turn to look at the softness of love, I think, surely this is the extreme of folly. I leave the matter undetermined, therefore, which is the most foolish, the blindness of love, or the softness of love, but I am sure that they are both very foolish.
But though I cannot determine which of these is the most foolish, I think I can say which is the easier to cure. The softness of love is a dereliction of duty, and men may be moved to their duty, but the blindness of love seems to have no known cure, except perhaps time, during which the evil character of the loved one becomes too plain to be overlooked or denied. I do not know that the Bible ever addresses the blindness of love, that it ever prescribes any remedy for it, but it surely does for the softness of love. “He that spareth the rod,” the Bible says, “hateth his son.” This of course is not to be taken as a technical statement of abstract truth. No, this is sarcasm. It is precisely love which moves fond parents to spare the rod, but it is foolish love, and love which damages their beloved offspring. They love their son, and cannot bear to hear him cry, cannot bear to see his little posterior sore from a spanking, cannot bear to lay the hard strokes upon him. They love him, no doubt, but they may just as well hate him, for all the good their love will do. This is foolish love, which sacrifices his future and ultimate happiness, for the happiness of the present moment. This is love which flies in the face of reason.
David was guilty of this foolish softness in the raising of his son Adonijah. “His father had not displeased him at any time, in saying, Why hast thou done so?” He never called him to account for his wayward actions. This would have displeased the little darling, and love never will or can relish this. By all means love delights to please, and avoids everything which will displease. Love by all means labors to secure the happiness of the one it loves, but then it is foolish, and faithless too, to look only to the fleeting happiness of the present moment, and secure it at the expense of the permanent happiness of the future.
The love which is soft, then, is foolish. Those parents who are soft on their children could do them no greater harm if they hated them. The preacher who is soft on his people could scarcely do them greater damage if he hated them. So the friend who is soft on his friend. “He that spareth the rod hateth his son,” and he that spares to reprove hates his friend.
We know, of course, that love has a way of softness about it, and even the reproofs of love will be as soft and gentle as love can make them, but sometimes they will be hard enough for all that. “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” (Prov. 23:13-14). A beating with the rod is hard, no matter how much love is behind it. Reproofs are hard, and hard to bear, no matter how much love may be served up with them. But beatings and reproofs are necessary for our ultimate happiness, and the love which withholds them is foolish and detrimental. The plain fact is, we must deny ourselves the pleasures of love when there is evil to be dealt with. “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” (Prov. 19:18). This requires self-denial.
Those who are guilty of this blind, soft, foolish love may suppose themselves quite right, and suppose that others would quite agree with them if they but had the same strength of love. But this is foolish also. Love is blind, and love is soft, but the plain fact is, God is love, and yet God is neither soft nor blind. Love is foolish, but God is love, and God is not foolish. However much you may love your child or friend or sister, God loves them more, and yet God is not blind to their faults. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He knew all the depths of our sinfulness, and yet loved us still.
And at this point I would like to suggest something further concerning this blind brand of love. I do not believe this love is blind because it is so deep and so strong, but quite the reverse. I think blind love is shallow love. I have too often seen it to turn to aversion, so soon as the real faults of the loved one are learned. This happens often enough when love-smitten young people get married, and I have seen it happen between friends also. Love which is deep and true exists with a full knowledge of all the faults of the one it loves. It penetrates beneath them all, and fixes upon the true worth of the person, and loves that, while it knows very well all the evils which surround, or even smother, that true worth. Such love is deep and strong, and will endure. Such is the love of God. That love which can see no wrong is really shallow. What depth of love is this, to love the perfect? Who wouldn't? This knows nothing of loving in spite of known faults. Such love is neither deep nor enduring. It stands only upon an imagination, and will evaporate, will turn to aversion, so soon as its bubble is burst. The love of God is deep and strong, and it is certainly not blind.
But more. God is love, and if he is not blind, neither is he soft. He was not soft on David, when David had sinned, but said, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house,” and “the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” This was not soft. This was hard. God was not soft on Adam when he sinned, but drove him out of Paradise, afflicted him with pain and sorrow, and subjected the whole earth to the curse on his account. Neither was God soft on Adam before he sinned, but straitly charged and threatened him, saying, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” We hear nothing from God of “Now Adam-Honey, I really don't want you to eat of that tree. Oh! you will make me so unhappy if you eat of that tree! Will you be good now, and leave that tree alone?” Nothing whatever of this—-nothing resembling it in all the Bible—-but strict commands and solemn threats, though God is love.
But this brings me to another matter. It is generally mothers who talk in this soft and syrupy language, and it is generally women who are susceptible to this blind and soft love. It is part of the weakness of “the weaker vessel” that the soul predominates in her constitution, while the spirit predominates in man. Emotion predominates in her constitution, where reason is predominant in man. We would not pretend that there is anything sinful in the predominance of emotion in the female constitution. Far from that. But still it is weakness, and weakness which belongs to her by creation. She was made to be dependent upon a man. She may be the heart of the home, but she is not the head of it. She was not made to be a head, but to have one. It is easy, therefore, for the heart of a woman to over-rule her head. This is a simple manifestation of what she is, and it proves nothing whatever concerning the strength of her love. It is not strength, but weakness.
But allow me to ask you a very impertinent question. Is God masculine or feminine? Is God male or female? We all know that God is masculine. We know very well that though “God created man in his own image,” that “in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them,” yet God himself is masculine. The Bible speaks of him thousands of times, and it is invariably he, never she. I once saw a bumper sticker, on the car of some modern feminist, which said, “Pray to God: she will help you,” but every one of you would feel that such language is blasphemous. God is love, but God is not feminine. God is love, but he is not subject to any of the weaknesses which belong to feminine nature. His heart never over-rules his head. He is never blind, never soft. The love which he feels may be beyond anything felt by any mother or any lover, but the manifestation of that love is always under the control of reason, and of holiness too.
The way of love is to pity and to sympathize when people are in hard places, and yet it is very often the case that we are in those hard places precisely because of our own fault. To pity and sympathize in such a case, while we refuse also to blame, is only to confirm people in their wrong. It gives them a little good feeling for the present day, but at the cost of their ultimate misery. If we are to do anybody any good, we must blame them as well as pity them. And love may have its way even while we blame. Love is perfectly free to show all the pity and compassion it can, even while we blame folks for their fault or their folly, and we have nothing to say against this. We believe it to be good and right. Indeed, we believe it to be quite wrong to blame people without any pity or sympathy. We may shed tears over the plight of sinners, while we yet condemn their sins, and blame them for committing them. But the love which will sympathize without blaming is foolish love, and will do no good to anybody. God certainly both pities and blames sinners, and God is love. Are you more loving than he?
We began this sermon with a reference to a popular song about “many, many tears ago.” But you understand, the tears of the singer were all for herself, for her own hurt. The foolish love I have been speaking of will lead to more bitter tears than these. You will be weeping not for yourself, but for the one you love—-for the one your foolish love has ruined. David was soft on his sons, and it did them no good, but ruined them altogether. The record tells us he was soft on Adonijah, and we may assume he was soft on Absalom also, for in their manhood they were two of a kind in their character. Now if you wish to see the final end of soft, blind, foolish love, you look at the tears and lamentations of David over his lost son Absalom. You listen to David crying, “O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Here is the end of foolish love, which spares the rod, and spares the reproof, and will not displease the one it loves.
But David's cries were nothing to the purpose. They were too late, of course, but they were of the wrong sort also. “Would God I had died for thee!” he says, but what would this have done? What he ought to have been saying is, “Would God I had displeased thee! Would God I had reproved thee! Would God I had disciplined thee! Would God I had restrained thee!” This had been much more to the purpose.
There was no doubt pleasure in the soft and silly love of David—-pleasure for himself, and pleasure for his sons. There was plenty of good feeling when he excused and overlooked their waywardness, when he soothed and sympathized, when he shielded and justified, but how transient that good feeling, and how bitter its end.
God is love, and you cannot love more nor better than he does. God is love, and is certainly the pattern which we ought to follow in our own love. God is love, but he is neither soft, nor feminine, nor blind, nor foolish. If you think your love is better or stronger or deeper or more tender than the love of God, you are foolish enough, and your love is no doubt as foolish as you are.