Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3.18)
The great power and the great question of our time are the same. Our great power, ability and skill which makes us superior to every other age of men who have dwelt on the face of the earth, a capacity which has built a civilization the most mighty in human history, is technology, the power of turning thought into practice, the power to apply knowledge to the transformation of reality. The great question and crushing problem, the unsolved dilemma, is equally a matter of bringing together thought and practice, knowledge and love. Our unsolved problem is to know the truth which will tell us what to do with our power to mold and transform our world. We have knowledge which tells us how to do what we will, but to what ends are we to direct our power? What goals are true and good both? What is the truth which will make us free? That is the defeating question of our time.
Individuals as well as our social agencies are caught in the same problem. What ideals are true and good, and provide a sure basis for directing my life? we ask. The so called 'information explosion' has the effect that there are an almost endless number of so called styles of life conceivable: Which ideals are true? and once I know the truth, how do I make that ideal the reality of my life? This is the expressed or unexpressed question constantly before every pastor.
This great problem of knowing the truth which is our good and goal, and making that truth the practical reality of our lives, this is the great preoccupation of this season of the Church Year, and it is the great gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sent to lead us into all truth, this truth is the source from which we have come out, and the goal to which we shall return. For the truth the Spirit manifests is the Son and Word of God by which all things were made and the resurrection of the dead. The Spirit makes us abide in the Father through the Son.
On Trinity Sunday we celebrated the knowledge of the good God, our beginning and end, to whom the Spirit raises us.
After this I saw, and behold, a door opened in heaven, and a voice. . . which said, Come up hither and I will show you things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the Spirit and behold a throne was set in heaven, and one sat upon the throne. (Revelation 4.1-2)
The Spirit comes so that we may be born again, and raised to see the heavenly things which are our salvation; these heavenly things are "in this world, knowledge of thy truth, and, in the world to come, life everlasting. (BCP, p. 15)
The other side of the work of the Spirit in us is what we call the fruit of good works, putting the truth into practice, charity, love of God, his worthy worship which is always the work of the Spirit. The Spirit makes us cry 'Abba, Father' and our prayer, our reaching out to God, is the Spirit's movement in us. But worship is not the only work to which the Spirit sets us, though it is the chief. There is the love of neighbour, and in this season we read the Epistles of James, Peter and John because they concern the unity of knowledge and virtuous love, of the invisible world and the visible. "Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only" commands James. "Faith without works is dead" he judges. (James 2.17) How can a man say I love God and hate his neighbour? asks John. "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1 John 3.17) We have known in Jesus and believed, because we have seen and handled it in him, that God is love; and so we are certain that who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. This Jesus loved us, gave his very flesh and blood for us, so we know by the Spirit who testifies of Jesus that "If a man say I love God and hateth his brother he is a liar." (1 John 4.20)
St. Peter exhorts: "And to godliness add brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make that ye shall neither be barren or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1.7-8)
These epistles teach us something about practice, about love and about truth which is a most important guide. The standards of truth and practice are the same ones they have always been. The good God we know, and who commands, changes not. As Jude has it: we are to hold fast to the truth "once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) Or John, "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning." (1 John 2.7) Always the same standard: "Who so hateth his brother is a murderer and we know that no murderer hath eternal life in him" because God commanded Moses "Thou shalt do no murder." (1 John 3.15) "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this," teaches James; namely, charity and purity: "To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and keep yourself unspotted from the world." (James 1.27) Or again: "Whoso seeth that his brother hath need and shutteth up his heart to him, How dwells the love of God in him?" asks John. (1 John 3.17)
The same eternal God is made known in "Jesus Christ the same yesterday today and forever" (Hebrews 13.8) and teaches us the same law ever new "Who loves God must love his brother also." (1 John 3.21) The resurrected Jesus gives us power to fulfill the commandments but he takes nothing of them away. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, they will not be pursuaded though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16.31) This wisdom, so ancient and so new, always makes us hated of the world, the world of change and decay, because the eternal law and unchangeable knowledge cannot belong to it. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you."
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15.18-19)
Knowledge and love of God and, of our brothers and sisters in God, calls us from the world with the greatest urgency.
A certain man made a great supper, and bade many; and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, come for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse.
You now hear the truth, and see the things which angels long to gaze upon, which the just saints of old desired to look upon and did not see. Hear and obey. Lest the final word you hear be:
For I say unto you that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. (Luke 14.24)
Let us pray to hear rather "Come and dine" "Come inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world." (Matthew 25.34)