By G. D. Watson
The love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit is the sum and substance of all true religion, and everything else that belongs to the Christian religion is either a step to this love or else an effect that flows out from it. Faith would be useless if it did not lead us into a life of love, and all good works and zeal would be useless and not acceptable to God unless they were prompted and pervaded by His love. Therefore, in a comprehensive sense, there is really nothing but love in pure religion. Not only most human beings, but also a great majority of nominal Christians do not know the difference between natural human love and the love of God; and yet the difference is just as great as that between the human soul and the perfections of the Divine Being.
Natural human love may resemble divine love in many things, for it is a created affection, made in the likeness of the divine; but in order to understand the spiritual life we need to clearly discriminate between these two kinds of love. One is human, the other divine; one is earthly, the other heavenly; one is natural, the other spiritual; one is temporal, the other eternal; one is fallen and full of defects; the other holy and without blame.
In the Greek Testament, the Holy Spirit has given us a strong distinction between these two kinds of love by using two separate words. The term philos, with its various forms, is the Greek word for natural or human affection, or that kind of love that springs up instinctively from relationship. The word agape, with its various forms, is the word for divine love — the temper, the disposition, the goodness and the interior heart-feeling of God. It is true the word philos is used a few times in connection with God to express His love for Jesus, but it is to be understood as expressing a love of relationship for the man Christ Jesus, the parental affection for the humanity of our Savior. It is also true that in a few places in the New Testament the word agape is used to express the spotless sanctified affection of human beings for each other, and of love of husbands for their wives, but in such instances it implies that the whole heart of the sanctified believer is flooded with the Holy Spirit, and that the natural human love is filled and overflowed with divine love.
The Scriptures make a clear distinction between the two kinds of love, and it is to be regretted that both of these words, philos and agape, are translated by the same word “love,” for it prevents the common reader from discerning the peculiar force of God’s Word, and from distinguishing the vast difference between that which is human and that which is divine. It could be wished that the word philos was always translated by the term “affection,” and then every one could get a clear vision of the mind of the Spirit in the Scripture.
Divine love is strong and fresh, and when the inward hindrances, such as inbred sin, doubt and moral fear are removed from the heart, and it can take entire possession, it turns the inner man into a moral giant of boldness and perseverance. Human affection is not in itself sinful, but it easily falls prey to the fallen state of the heart, and almost universally is poisoned with selfishness or greed, with fleshly lusts, ambition or avarice. On the other hand, divine love, introduced into the heart by the new birth and perfected by the sanctifying baptism of the Holy Spirit, and filling the whole soul, is a constant fountain of compassion and charity for others, longing to save and bless all mankind. It is always thinking, praying, planning and going forth, in order to lead souls to Jesus, to bless the poor, to purify the church, to evangelize the heathen, to lift up the fallen and to alleviate pain; for when divine love has its normal action through the human soul, its supreme gladness is in the giving of itself for the benefit of others. Human love is soon exhausted, for its fountains are not deep enough, and it often dwindles into the poor sentiments of good wishes, but nothing more; whereas, divine love has in it a fountain of satisfaction, and can constantly increase, despite poor health or poverty, or hard work or bad treatment. The things that often kill human affection can become the occasions for the love of God to increase in the soul, and to deepen and sweeten it with marvelous power.
We were originally constituted in Adam (the first man) to be vessels of divine love, and the various parts of our compound being of body, soul and spirit never reach their normal state until entirely possessed and governed by the love of God. Any effort to make the body or the mind to live in a right manner apart from the pure love of God is simply legality or bondage to law. When divine love becomes the supreme possession of a man’s inner being, his physical and mental being will easily harmonize with God’s law. Thus we need divine love to purify, elevate, and properly utilize the natural affections. This is the divine element that St. John speaks of when he says, “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16).
Two Kinds of Love was taken from The Heavenly Life by G. D. Watson, condensed and revised, and may be reproduced and distributed.