You might recognise this title from a well-known book written by Francis Schaeffer. His point was that love “is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father”. It was a point made centuries earlier by Hugh Binning. He called Christian love the “badge that Christ left to his disciples: if we cast this away on every disagreement, we disown our Master, and disclaim his token and badge”. Both of course refer to Christ’s words in John 13:35 that “love one to another” is the way by which all men will recognise Christ’s disciples.
During his lifetime Binning experienced sad disagreements with those who were otherwise fully agreed on the Church’s faith and practice. He was a man of principle who did not cast away his convictions when difficulties arose. But he was also a man of peace who loved obedience to Christ’s new commandment: to love one another. He did not give up speaking the truth even when it might offend others, but he spoke the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Binning believed that: “Unity in judgement [conviction] is very necessary for the well being of Christians…[and]… unity in affection is most essential and fundamental”. He says that “love is a uniting and transforming thing”.
His valuable little book Christian Love has particular beauty and power (see below for a special offer for purchasing it). It is not a book that sprinkles platitudes and slogans but rather penetrates deeply. In particular he comments on 1 Corinthians 13 with great insight. This is a chapter often read and referred to but seldom understood with accuracy and depth.
1. The Mark of God
“There is a special stamp of excellency put on this affection of love”. It is that God delights to reveal Himself in this way. “God is love”. We are to be “followers of God as dear children, and walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1-2). We are to follow this pattern. “God has a general love to all the creatures, from which the river of his goodness flows throughout the earth, and in that, is like the sun conveying his light and benign influence, without partiality or restraint, to the whole world”. Yet His “special favour runs in a more narrow channel towards those whom he has chosen in Christ”.
A Christian must be like his Father in this. Indeed Binning says “there is nothing in which he resembles him more than in this, to walk in love towards all men, even our enemies. For in this he gives us a pattern: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
To do good to all, and to be ready to forgive all, is the glory of God, and certainly it is the glory of a child of God to be merciful as his Father is merciful, and good to all, and kind to the unthankful. And this is to be perfect as he is perfect. This perfection is charity and love to all. But the particular and special current of affection will run toward the household of faith, those who are of the same descent, and family, and love.
This is the “badge” of Christ’s disciples. “These two in a Christian are nothing but the reflex of the love of God, and streams issuing out from it”. In order to support this Binning quotes from Galatians 5:10 “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”. The other extremely apt verse he gives is 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13: “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love onetowards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you, to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all his saints.”
A Christian walking in love to all, blessing his enemies, praying for them, not reviling or cursing again, but blessing for cursing, and praying for reviling, forgiving all, and ready to give to the necessities of all, and more especially, uniting the force of his love and delight, to bestow it upon these who are the excellent ones, and delight of God, such a one is his Father’s picture, so to speak. He is partaker of that divine nature, and royal spirit of love.
2. The Mark of True Humanity
Binning says that most of Christianity is true humanity. “Christ makes us men as well as Christians. He makes us reasonable men when believers. Sin transformed our nature into a wild, beastly, viperous, selfish thing. Grace restores reason and natural affection in the purest and highest strain. And this is reason and humanity, elevated and purified – to condescend to all men in all things for their profit and edification, to deny itself to save others”. Yet “charity will not, dare not sin to please men. That were to hate God, to hate ourselves, and to hate our brethren, under a base pretended notion of love”.
We should be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,” among whom we should shine “as lights” (Philippians 2:15). And truly it is humanity elevated by Christianity, or reason purified by religion, that is the light that shines most brightly in this dark world.
3. The Mark of Spiritual Light
On occasion Binning is lyrical in his spiritual understanding of Christian love.
Love is real light and life. Is it not “a pleasant thing for the eye to behold the sun?” Light is sweet, and life is precious. These are two of the rarest jewels given to men.
He follows this immediately with an arresting quotation from 1 John 2:9-11 that it is only those that love their brother who abide in the light. “The light of Jesus Christ cannot shine into the heart, but it begets love, even as intense light begets heat, and where this impression is not made on the heart, it is an evidence that the beams of that Sun of righteousness have not pierced it”. Daylight is made for going about our daily work. Why is spiritual daylight given to the soul? In order “that it may rise up and go forth to labour, and exercise itself in the works of the day, duties of love to God and men”.
Now in such a soul there is no cause of stumbling, no scandal, no offence in its way to fall over. When the light and knowledge of Christ possesses the heart in love, there is no stumbling block of transgression in its way. It does not fall and stumble at the commandments of righteousness and mercy as grievous, “therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). And so the way of charity is the most easy, plain, expedient and safe way. In this way there is light shining all along it, and there is no stumbling block in it. Love for God and our brethren has polished and made it all plain
4. The Mark of Humility
Here Binning comes to one of the most challenging aspects of Christian love. It is demanding and self-sacrificing not insipid sentiment. Christian love will be as careful as possible to avoid stumbling others. (For more on this point see the recent article 7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others). Although there are “many stumbling blocks in the world, yet there is none in charity, or in a charitable soul”. Binning says: “I…think there is no point of Christianity less regarded”. Other matters are acknowledged though we may fail in practice but this scarcely comes into the minds of any. Few see it as their obligation.
“The apostle says, ‘Give none offence, neither to the Jews nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God’ (1 Corinthians 10:32). And he adds his own example, ‘Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved’, verse 33. If only those who love “all things to all men” as a slogan would be dissuaded by this verse from stumbling others.
Love is a light which may lead us by offences inoffensively, and without stumbling. In darkness men mistake the way, know not the end of it, take pits for plain ways, and stumble in them. Uncharitableness casts a mist over the actions and courses of others, and our own too, that we cannot carry on either without transgression. And this is the misery of it, that it cannot discern any fault in itself. It knows not where it goes, calls light darkness and darkness light. It is partial in judgment, pronounces always on its own behalf, cares not whom it condemns, that it may absolve itself.
“Charity is not self-addicted”, he says. Binning is unsparing in his treatment of uncharitable self-love. We want others to deal charitably with us but are less inclined to extend it ourselves. “If I be convinced that there is any equity and beauty in that command which charges others to love me, forgive me, forbear with me, and restore me in meekness, why, then, should it be a grievous command that I should pay that debt of love and tenderness to others?”
The root of this problem is pride. We compare the best in us with the worst in others in order to inflate our self-opinion. It would be better to compare our worst with other people’s best. “Humility makes a man compare himself with the best that he may find how bad he himself is, but pride measures by the worst, that it may hide a man from his own imperfections”.
5. The Mark of Righteousness
Binning shows that the commandments which relate to our neighbour (the fifth commandment to the tenth) are branches of Christian love. They all require “the works of righteousness and of mercy”. Yet these are “interwoven” through each other. Though mercy is usually restricted to showing compassion on men in misery, yet there is a righteousness in that mercy, and there is mercy in the most acts of righteousness, as in not judging rashly, in forgiving etc. Therefore we shall consider the most eminent and difficult duties of love, which the word of God solemnly and frequently charges upon us in relation to others, especially these of the household of faith.
6. The Mark of Liveliness
Binning says that cold love is “the symptom of a decaying and fading Christian and Church” (Matthew 24:12). It was the great charge that Christ had against Ephesus (Revelation 2:4-5). Love is the source of life and liveliness for a Christian. Without it the soul is in decay. “It is the …evidence, as well as the root and fountain, of abounding iniquity”. Binning says that it is the epidemic disease of the present time, love cooled, and passion heated”. From these arise “contentions, wars and divisions, which have brought the church of God near to expiring”. “Therefore being mindful of…Hebrews 10:24, I would think it pertinent to consider one another, and provoke again unto love and to good works”.
SPECIAL OFFER: Buy Your Own Copy of Christian Love
Binning’s book is published by the Banner or Truth and available as a special offer for £3.55 from James Dickson Books (usual price £3.95 – RRP £5.00). This is a special discount of 10% available to readers of this blog post using the coupon code RST16. Purchase here (enter the code after adding the book to the cart).
The book contains a biographical note as well as three expositions from Binning’s exposition of Romans 8:1-15 The Sinner’s Sanctuary. The first chapter identifies the love of a Christian and its opposite: self-love. Chapter 2 considers the excellence of Christian love, again distinguishing it from the false selfish love that prevails in the world. Binning then offers motives for Christian love (chapter 3) and practical teaching (chapter 4). The fifth chapter dwells on humility and meekness as a key aspect of Christian love.
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