The following is humbling, needful, and even more pressing in our day than it was at the time it was preached. May God give us grace, mercy, and effectual strength to walk in accordance with the truths set forth herein.
Divine (Agapē) Love Is Righteously Holy,
Jealous, Intolerant, and Self-Sacrificial
An Excerpt From
“The Straitness of the Gospel”
By Eugene Bersier, Pastor of the Reformed Church of Paris
Published in 1882
“…Finally, I affirm that the way of the gospel is strait, because it is the way of love. I know that such a thought as this may seem strange. We are scarcely accustomed to hear the idea of straitness associated with the idea of love. On the contrary, nothing is so frequent today as to hear men speak of a religion of love, in which henceforward are confounded all the ideas, all the beliefs, which have hitherto divided men. ‘God is love,’ men say to us: ‘what, in reality, do our errors and feeblenesses concern Him? How can the acts of creatures of a day trouble the serenity of the universal Being? Give up, O believers, your judgments, your condemnations, your anathemas! Open up to erring creatures the infinite compassion! Why trouble their fleeting joys? Why empoison their pleasures? Man is so feeble, and life is so short!’ It is thus that they speak, and even in their sickly pages, sing of the love of God. Yes, upon polluted lips they place mystic effusions regarding the love of God. Yes, this sanctuary, this holy of holies, whither men ought never to penetrate but with trembling, is today a place of passage where every one insolently comes to take his place and to screen his ideas, his unbelief, his vices, and even his blasphemy.
Do you know what is under this thought? With an odious profanation there is there a frightful medley of selfishness and pride. God is love, they say; then we are free, free to think, to love, to act, according to our fancy! Away with intolerance! Heaven is open to all of us!
Ah! without doubt, Christianity as a whole may be summed up in love. But what an abyss between love such as the world understands, and love such as the gospel understands! Yes, the love of God is religion itself; but what is this love, and what is God? He is the holy God, who is of purer eyes than to behold evil; He is the God before whom the angels themselves must veil their faces; He is the jealous God, who wishes to reign alone over the hearts of men, and who does not suffer any idol. Then the love which He bears to us must be holy, jealous like Himself, and the love that we bear to Him must be of the same nature. It is strait in the sense that it rejects all that is contrary to it. It allies itself with God—that is to say, it cannot be indifferent to anything that relates to God. All that offends God offends it, all that dishonours God touches itself. Away, then, with this universal and cowardly toleration that men claim to shelter under the gospel! Christian love brings with it the most energetic hatred of what is contrary to it, according to the beautiful words of the Psalmist: ‘Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.’ Far from justifying indifference, it holds indifference in horror; and, if in presence of sinners, it styles itself infinite compassion, in presence of sin it is inflexible holiness.
Here I appeal to yourselves. Is it not true that you love, you who really know how to love? Mother, is it a matter of indifference to you that the heart of your child has given itself up to all the passions, to all the shameful attachments which solicit it? Spouse, do you accept, under the pretext of breadth, the husband who has sworn to be faithful to you, and who plunges into all the temptations which attract him? Ah! your love is strait; strait because it is love, because the day in which it will cease to be so, the day in which you will accept the part of being loved after the stranger, the day in which this shame will leave you indifferent and cold, will be a day in which there will be nothing more than ashes on the extinguished hearth of your affections.
Well, do you believe that the God of the gospel asks from us less than what one creature can ask from another! And who, then, has a right to claim our heart if it is not He who made it! What! these treasures of tenderness, these irresistible impulses, this ardent thirst for sympathy, this necessity of admiring, of adoring, all these energies of the human heart—shall the God who put them into us be the only one who shall have nothing of them! We dare to say that a God who would ask from you less than an absolute sacrifice without reserve, who would ask less than your life and your heart, would not be believed in by you for a moment. Hence it is, that the way of the gospel is strait, because he who engages himself thereon has henceforward only one end, only one supreme ambition, the service of God in love. See what frightens you, O worldlings! I know well that we did not understand each other. This exclusive love is hateful to you: to consecrate your life to God, to love all for Him and through Him, to lose your life in Him, as the gospel says, this is a way too strait for a heart entirely taken up with itself. Meanwhile we must choose: either the broad way of selfishness, where man saves his life to lose it, or the strait way of love, where man loses his life in God to save it.
I have shown you, my brethren, why the way of the gospel is strait. Do I deceive myself when I affirm that whilst I speak to you in my feebleness, your conscience, in agreement with me, secretly confirmed what I advanced? Meanwhile I must conclude. If among you who hear me, one only, in silence before God, who sees him, has decided to go on the way which I have set before him, what success for me, and what a recompense! But for him what joy! What joy? Yes. Notwithstanding that this sacrifice has its bitterness. I have not wished to deceive you. Others will say that the way of the gospel is broad, others will flatter you. They will say that the Christian life, such as I have presented it to you, is mystic and gloomy, dull, monotonous, and full of privations. Eternal leading astray of the world; eternal falsehood that it repeats to all those who wish to follow Jesus Christ! Ask rather of those who have followed the strait way, ask them if they regret their privations and their sacrifices, ask them if all the illusions of the flesh, and of pride outvalue the immense happiness of a soul reconciled with God, living in what is true, assured of its eternal happiness; ask them if all the joys of selfishness outvalue the pure joy of a love which commences upon earth to expand in heaven in its infinite fulness. No, Lord, Thou dost not deceive, Thou dost not act with us as the world does. The world promises joy, it only gives bitterness; Thou promisest us the cross, and Thou givest us the crown; the world opens to us the broad way, but it is the way of errors and of deceptions, without hope; Thou openest to us the strait way, but it leads to heaven. Oh! give us all to follow it, so as to attain the true life, where we shall grow in knowledge, in holiness, in love, and renew ourselves without ceasing after Thy image..“