Love and Brotherly Love

2 Peter 1:7  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Listen from:
The common notion is that brotherly love is charity, and indeed its most perfect form. This is a mistake, as this passage shows. That brotherly love is a most sweet and precious fruit of grace is most true precious in the heart that is filled with it, and precious in its mutual development; but it is not charity. We are told to add to “brotherly love” “charity.” The reason is simple: if brotherly love, brethren are the object, and though when genuine and pure it surely flows from grace—it easily in us clothes itself with the character which its object gives it, and tends to limit itself to the objects with which it is occupied and be governed by its feeling towards them. It is apt to end in its objects, and thus avoid all that might be painful to them or mar the mutual feeling and pleasantness of intercourse, and thus make them the measure of the conduct of the Christian. In a word, where brotherly love ends in itself, as the main object, brethren become the motive and governing principle of our conduct; and our conduct as uncertain as the state of our brethren with whom we may be in contact. Hence the apostle says, “Above all these put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness”; and another apostle, “And to brotherly kindness charity.”
Now charity is love; but will not this seek to exercise brotherly kindness? Undoubtedly it will, but it brings in God. “God is love.” “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Hence it brings in a standard of what true love is, which mere brotherly kindness in itself never can. It is the bond of perfectness, for God, and God in active love is its measure. Brotherly kindness by itself has the brother for object: charity is governed by, exists in virtue of the conscious presence of God; hence whatever is not consistent with His presence, with Himself, with His glory, cannot be borne by the heart who is filled with it. It is in the spirit of love that it thinks and works, but in the Spirit of God, by whose presence it is inwardly known and active. Love was active in Christ when He said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers”; in Paul when he said, “I would that they were even cut off which trouble you.”
Charity, because it is God’s presence, and that we feel His presence, and look to Him in it, is intolerant of evil. In mere brotherly kindness, the brother being the object before my mind (and, if God’s presence be not felt, we do not realize it, nature coming in so easily and here in its most unsuspected and kindly shapes), I put man before God, smother up evil, keep kindness going, at any rate so far exclude and shut out God. Charity is His active presence though it will be in love to man; but it gives to God all His rights. He it is that is love, but He is never inconsistent with Himself. His love to us was shown in what was the most solemn proof of His intolerance of evil, the cross. There is no true love apart from righteousness. If God is indifferent to evil, is not righteous, then there is no love in grace to the sinner. If He abhors evil, cannot suffer it in His presence, then His dealings with us as sinners shows the most perfect love. If I have ten children, and they go wrong, and I say, “Well, I am to show love to them,” and I take no account of their evil ways; or if some of them go wrong and I treat them as if there was no difference to my mind in their well doing or evil doing; this is not love, but carelessness as to evil. This is the kind of love looked for by unconverted man, namely, God’s being as careless as to evil as they are; but this is not divine charity which abhors the evil, but rises over it, dealing with it either in putting it away or in needed chastenings. Now if God were indifferent to evil there is no holy being to be the object of my love—nothing sanctifying. God does not own as love what admits of sin.
J. N. D.