THE LONG LOVE OF CHRIST BY REV. W. ROBERTSON NICOLL, M.A. LL.D.

THE stronghold of the bibhcal doctrine of election is to be found in Our Lord's words. Stated in dogmatic form, this great truth has lost its hold on the consciousness of the Church, and almost everywhere has disappeared into the background. Yet the time must come when it will resume its old place. We cannot afford to be ignorant that God " did not wait to love us till this late, lonely moment which we call our life, that these poor years are steeped in the light of everlasting years." The regions of the spirit are but little to be measured by the standards of time, and the thought that God loved us when we did not love Him is infinitely precious. His love was before our knowledge, before our being. It knew all, was mindful of all, embraced its children even in their sleep, even in their dreams, unlighted by any thought of it. Often in this world two come

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together after each has Hved a Hfetime. Each finds in the other what the heart has been seeking all the while through lonely, uncomforted years. There is nothing to mar the gladness of that great discovery, save the one thought that each has missed so much of the other's experience, and now the journey is short. It is not so with the eternal, inalienable love of Christ. The eternity of redeeming love expresses itself in experience as securit}^ When we look at Our Lord's last words to the disciples and to the Father, it is plain that the eternal choice to His mind is the assurance that His people are safe. God gave Christ power over all flesh that He should give eternal life to as many as the Father had given Him. The men whom God gave Christ out of the world were God's, and God gave them to Christ. For these He prayed, for they were God's and His. His human consciousness might almost have reeled under the thought of all they had to pass
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through, when His visible presence was no longer with them. Nevertheless the purpose of God nuist stand. They were so few and so feeble — their foes were so many, so strong, so unrelenting, that it seemed inevitable they should

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be swept away by the tide of hate. They were to be condemned, persecuted, slain, and all in the name of God. But the love of the Father who gave them in answer to the love of Christ would not fail. And their Redeemer willed that they should be with Him where He was, that they should behold His glory, and that will of His would triumph, no matter what withstood it. The sheep of Christ should never perish, neither should any pluck them out of His hand. Can we afford to miss the knowledge of divine pledges, divine care, divine purpose in such a world as this which surrounds us, amid so many deadly antagonists of love ? If the keeping of the love
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of Christ depended on ourselves, our heart's best treasure would be insecure. But if He has loved us from before the foundation of the world, who shall separate us from the love of Christ ?

The long love of Christ, stretching from eternity to eternity, had its special time of manifestation and appeal. When we were blind and deaf and dumb to Love, Love called us from Calvary. Christ became incarnate, and for our sakes made the journey from " the poor manger to the bitter cross." He came into the world not as a shoot from the innermost pith of divinely

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endowed human nature, for that nature was diseased, but as a root out of a dry ground, as the Word made flesh. As He hung on Calvary in His mortal wounds, He disclosed Love's very heart. When men in their hardness desired to know nothing of Love, Love refused to forsake
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them, Love had compassion upon them, and manifested Itself anew to them in the work of redemption. We know how it is with human affection. It becomes as the years pass tranquil and for the most part silent. It is content with the memory of its old sweet time of speech. How often between two who have taken the long path together, the divine words rise in the heart, though they may be unspoken : " I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals when thou wentest after me in the wilderness in a land that was not sown." "When thou wentest after me in a land not sown " — that is, when you went with me into the backwoods, into the bush, when you were so brave and faithful, when youi' spirit rose superior to all our straits and toil, when you heartened me as I was sinking, when you made our poor pittance go so far, when the glory of your love transfigured the hard and

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poverty-stricken days. When such memories rise in a husband's heart, everything else is forgotten. The work of time and toil is undone. More than the long vanished loveliness shines from the worn features — they are illuminated in the light of the heart of God. And so the long love of Christ has spoken to us once and for ever from the cross on which He died, and in the light of it we perceive in all our history, in nature, and in providence what Heinrich MiJller has finely called ** the preaching love of God."

All human love, the noblest, the purest, the tenderest, has its strange alternations, its terrible checks and pauses. But to the communication of the long love of Christ there need be no end. We are able to think of that Love without the shadow of fear. In how many homes love and pain are joined together ! And the one makes the other grow. Though the love is perfect and unclouded in itself, although almost impregnable fortresses have been built against worldly care,
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the shadow of death begins to fall, and there is never a mxoment of true peace. Charlotte Bronte wrote about her dying sister Emil}- : " I cherish hope as well as I can, but her appearance and

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her symptoms tend to crush that feeUng. Yet I argue that the present emaciation, cough, weakness, shortness of breath, are the results of inflammation now, I trust, subsided, and that with time these ailments will gradually leave her. But my father shakes his head and speaks of others of our family once similarly afQicted, for whom he likewise persisted in hoping against hope, and who are now removed where hope and fear fluctuate no more. There were, however, differences between their case and hers, important differences I think. I must cling to the expectation of her recovery. I cannot renounce it." But the blow fell, as it falls so often, and what then ? Even when we have
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received to the full all divine consolation, even when we have submitted ourselves completely to the truth and will of God, the fact remains that the great separation has now taken place, and that we miss the daily, hourly assurance of affection which was once our life. We may say with full hearts, " Even so, Father." We may perfectly realise that the vision of the beloved, if it were again bestowed, would smite us to the earth as dead. We may know that any meeting of the earthly consciousness with the

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exalted spirit would almost break down the powers of the mind and of life. Yet still we are not content.

"Could I but win thee for one hour from otl that starry

shore, The hunger of my heart were stilled for death hath told
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thee more Than the melancholy world doth know, things deeper than

all lore."'

But in place of the earthly affection, lost in some measure for the time, we have the constant presence of the love of Christ, a presence which, if we will, is always seeking to break into communication and comfort and strength. The expression of love is not giving, not sacrifice, but love, and the long love of Christ is ever waiting to be gracious. As St. Augustine has said, "the divine love is a caressing love." This is the true Easter message, the message of the eternal presence of the risen Saviour.

The long love of Christ, as it began in eternity, stretches on through eternity. Indeed, it is this that makes the thought of eternity bearable. For all things are mortal saving only love. All things, however sweet, however prized, will at length begin to fail, and when the time comes we shall
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be glad of their failure. But who that has loved has ever desired an end to love ? Who that has loved has ever felt the interruption of love as anything but the chief calamity of life, a cruel break in the eternal and divine order, the bitterest penalty of wrong-doing ? The love which is so near us, and in which our earthly life may be spent in all its labour and conflict, is the love that stretches out to the endless end. Those who have gazed already, as spirits may gaze, on the face of the eternal Christ, have found it in its perfected manifestation, and we go forward to meet them. To the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of peace, the redeemed of the Lord go up from all the lands of life. And if we are Christ's, received into the communion of the Redeemer and His righteousness, we shall feel that this and this only is our true home, and we shall draw near to it, not timidly, not shrinkingly, but with eager desire,
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as those who are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God. As we understand the depth of the final rest, we grow reconciled to our bereavements. It seems indeed more natural that the beloved should be withdrawn from us than that they should ever have been at our side.

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Our Easter message then is that all of us may find, and find now and find never again to lose, the present love of Christ. How many in weary and craving solitude through dark and melancholy years have been seeking the crown that has never come ! They have been saying,

" Does Love descend from heaven like light, Or grow like flowers out of the ground "•" For I mean to seek him day and night, Till I find him, dear, as you have found.""

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" Seek what ye seek," says St. Augustine — " it is not where ye seek it." Human nature only feels at home and well and safe and sound in love, but earthly love, at least in full and satisfying measure, may be denied.

" ' If I had married Aaron Miles,' went on Aurelia thoughtfully, ' I might have had trials in plenty. I reckon I was bound to, although that's as the Lord wills ; I'm not maintaining I shouldn't, but I guess that dreadful sort of useless feeling I never should have known. It's rather unfair I should know it, too, seeing there's plenty of women, and unmarried ones too, that don't have it. I just tried once to explain it to Mehitabel, and I guess you should have seen her stare. I don't rightly know why I'm telling you now, onl}'

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all this anxiety tells on me. Seems as if I had to talk, or I should die right away. So the years
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went on at home, and sometimes, although I was always very quiet, the thought of, maybe, all I might have had but for poor Mehitabel's principles, and all the love I had missed, just grew intolerable. It was not the being loved myself I cared for so much as finding folk I could love that I wanted. Wh}^, there have been days when I could hardly bear the sight of a child's face, or the sound of its little, shrill voice, through thinking that had

things been different ' "

But love is at our side with its wealth of grace and peace, love in which the soul may find its happiness and the heart its true life. He who lived and died for us, and lives for evermore, is near us all in our loneliness and our lovelessness, and is still saying, **Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest " — rest in love.

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