Showing posts with label Henry Drummond. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Henry Drummond. Show all posts

05 August 2011

THOUGHT: Love and other things

< The fulfilment of the law | The Essay | No later items >

This is the third post in a series on Henry Drummond's essay on love. Clanging cymbalsHere we see how he checks through Paul's list of other great things.

Paul lists eloquence, prophecy, mysteries, faith, charitable giving and sacrifice.

Although Drummond writes that these things are self-evidently inferior, he still finds some useful things to say about them.

Paul begins by comparing love with other things that were treasured in the Graeco-Roman world. I won't cover them in detail; their inferiority is clear.

He draws a contrast with eloquence. It's a wonderful gift – it can influence hearts and minds, rousing people to high purpose and holiness in action. Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” We all know why. We've all sensed the brassiness of words without emotion, the hollow and curiously unconvincing eloquence that lacks underlying love.

Drummond draws our attention to something we all know to be true, the fact that fine words may not reflect what is in the heart. Love is greater than eloquence because words without love have no depth of foundation. We have the ability to notice this and it's important that we pay attention when it happens.

[Paul] also contrasts love with prophecy, mysteries, faith, and charitable giving. Why is Love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charitable giving? Because the whole is greater than the part.

What is the use of having faith? It connects the soul with God. And what is the purpose of connecting with him? So that we may become like him. But God is love, so faith (the means) is so that we can love (the end). Love is clearly greater than faith. “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

It's greater than giving, once again because the whole is greater than the part. Giving is only a small part of love, one of its many avenues. There's a great deal of loveless giving. It's easy enough to toss a coin to a beggar on the street, in fact it's often easier than not doing it. But love is often in the holding back. A few pennies buys relief from our feelings of sympathy. It's too cheap for us, and it's often too costly for the beggar. If we truly loved him we'd either do more, or we'd do less. “If I give all I possess to the poor, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Drummond skips right over prophecy and the understanding of mysteries as not requiring any explanation. Love is clearly greater than those things. But he does give some attention to faith and to charitable giving.

He argues that the end is always greater than the means and shows that faith is merely the means for reaching the Almighty One who is love in person. And if we have faith but we still don't have him, our faith is worthless. Faith gets it value from the one it allows us to reach.

And in the case of giving, he points out that it's just a part of love and the whole is always greater than a part. Giving is one way of demonstrating love. We can even give without love, an empty and meaningless act. Drummond's illustration is interesting.

The beggar in the street is still with us. But giving a few coins is a poor substitute for real love. Perhaps it makes us feel better but it won't go very far and it may be spent on something that will make the problem even worse. It would be more loving to bring a cup of tea, a sandwich, a new coat, and a listening ear. Because of the harm mere money can do it might even be more loving to give nothing at all!

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice, even death. “If I surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Missionaries can take nothing better to the unsaved than the mark and reflection of God's love on their own characters. That's a universal language! It takes years to learn a foreign language but from the day they arrive, a love that everyone understands will be pouring out unaware but eloquently.

It's not words that are the missionary, it's the person. A person's character is the real message. In deepest Africa near Lake Victoria I've met Negroes who remembered David Livingstone. Their faces light up as they talk about the first white person they ever saw, the kind doctor who passed that way years earlier. They didn't understand what he said, but they felt the love that was in his heart. They knew it was love even though he didn't say so.

Take that simple charm into the workplace where you plan to spend your life, and your life's work will succeed. You can't take anything more, but you need nothing less. Whatever your
accomplishments and your readiness for sacrifice, if you surrender your body to the flames but are without love, it will benefit you and Christ's purpose – nothing!

Here, surely, Henry Drummond has touched on the core of my life as a follower of Jesus - my character (yours too). It's not about what I do, it's about who I am in Christ. If Jesus doesn't shine out in my words and actions I can go to the greatest lengths and remain utterly ineffective. That is why Paul wrote in Colossians 1:27, 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'. There is no other hope, no hope in us as we are. Only as Christ expresses himself through us do we see effective fruit.

< The fulfilment of the law | The Essay | No later items >

06 January 2011

ANNOUNCEMENT - 'Greatest Thing' republished

(See indexes on other topics)

I've just published a modern English version of Henry Drummond's 'The Greatest Thing in the World'. His wonderful essay on love was originally created in 1884, and it analyses Paul's famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians.

The Light of the worldDownload a copy - The modern English version is available free to download, choose from PDFKindle. (You can also read the modern English version and the Victorian original online.)

Article series - You might enjoy an ongoing series of short articles in which I examine Henry Drummond's essay in more detail.
  1. What is the greatest gift to grasp?
  2. The fulfillment of the law
  3. Love and other things...
Licencing - Copyright in the original has expired while the new version comes with a Creative Commons licence. So please feel free to print or republish either version and distribute it as widely as you like.

A new version for today - Why have I gone to the trouble of translating this essay into modern English? Basically, because it deserves a wider audience. Years ago The Greatest Thing was often reprinted as a booklet and was very popular. I remember buying a copy in Wesley Owen's on Park Street in Bristol back in the 1970s when the language was still less than 100 years out of date. It was a great read and it helped to change my life. The analysis excited me, Henry Drummond confirmed what I already knew to be true - this new life in Christ is all about love. At the same time the little book challenged me and drew me on.

Today it's hard to find - I don't know if the original remains in print. This great essay is no longer widely known or read. It deserves better. It will speak to readers today just as it always did. Read it!

I'm open to the possibility of releasing a printed version. I'll look into routes for self-publishing in the next few weeks, but would also be glad to hear from any commercial publisher that might be interested in The Greatest Thing.

Acknowledgements - And finally, I just want to thank the family members and friends who read my early drafts and made helpful suggestions, pointed out errors, or were just encouraging. You know who you are.

See also: Christian life can come to nothing - Cerulean sanctum

15 December 2010

THOUGHT - The fulfilment of the law

< What is the greatest gift? | The Essay | Love and other things >

This is the second post in the series on Henry Drummond's essay on love. He has established that love has a good claim to be the greatest thing there is, now he sets out to show how it fulfils Old Testament law.

Florence Nightingale helping the woundedHe begins by quoting Paul from Romans and asking us what we think Paul meant. Then he sets out to answer his own question.

Paul makes a deeply significant remark elsewhere, “Love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10). Have you ever wondered what he meant? In those days people worked their passage to heaven by keeping the ten commandments (and the hundred and ten other commandments which they had made from them). But Christ came and said, “I will show you a simpler way. If you do one thing, you will do these hundred and ten things without ever thinking about them. If you love, you will unconsciously fulfil the entire law.” (For example, Matthew 22:37-40).

Drummond shows clearly that not only did Paul make this claim, so too did Jesus himself. The reference to the 110 other commandments is to the rules created by the teachers of the Law as fences. The idea was that because (for example) the Law says it is wrong to boil a calf in its mother's milk, to avoid all risk of a piece of meat coming in contact with a piece of cheese that might inadvertantly have been made from the mother's milk, a house must have two kitchens - one for milk products and the other for meat. In this way the risk of breaking that particular law would be greatly reduced.

Next, Henry Drummond provides some examples of how exactly love can cause the law to be fulfilled. He demonstrates its truth for the Almighty and then also for the people we meet in our lives.

It's easy to see why this is true. Take any of the commandments, for example, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). If a person loves God you won't need to remind them of that. Love fulfils that law. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:7). Would anyone dream of misusing his name if they loved him? “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). Wouldn't anyone be glad to have one day in seven to dedicate more fully to the one they love? Love fulfils all these laws regarding God.

In just the same way, if someone loves other people there would be no need to remind them to honour their parents, they could do nothing less! It would be preposterous to tell them not to kill. And suggesting they should not steal would be to insult them – how could they steal from people they love? What point would there be in persuading them not to bear false witness. That's the last thing they'd do to those they love. You'd never think to press such a person to avoid envying their neighbour's possessions. They'd prefer the neighbour to have them anyway! And that is how “love is the fulfilment of the law”. It's the one rule for fulfilling all rules, the one new command for meeting all the old commandments, Christ's one secret of the Christian life.

And finally Henry Drummond sets the scene for the rest of his essay. He shows that 1 Corinthians 13 falls into three natural parts. He lists them here before launching into a treatment of each one.

Paul understood the secret clearly and in this wonderful chapter he's given us the best existing description of the Greatest Good. It can be divided into three parts. In verses 1-3 he contrasts love with other great things, in verses 4-7 he analyses its components, and in verses 8-13 he defends love as the greatest gift.

Henry Drummond is surely right. If love was always central in my heart it would always be central in my actions too. There's a certain inevitability about that.

< What is the greatest gift? | The Essay | Love and other things >

12 December 2010

THOUGHT - What is the greatest gift to grasp?

< No earler items | The Essay | The fulfilment of the law >

In 1884, Henry Drummond wrote an essay on love called 'The Greatest Thing in the World'. It is so good that I felt I should translate it from the original Victorian English into today's English so that it will accessible to more people.

Henry DrummondI have published the essay online, but I'm also making it available as a series of articles here. This is the first.

I'll begin by quoting a section of the modern version and then add some thoughts of my own.

Please consider writing a comment, I'm interested to know what you think.

Every one has asked themselves the great question of past ages and of today: What is the greatest good? You have life ahead of you but you can only live it once. What is the noblest thing to have, the greatest gift to grasp?

We're used to being told that the greatest thing in the religious world is Faith. That great word has been key for centuries in mainstream church and without a thought we've considered it to be the greatest thing in the world. Well, we're wrong! If we've been told that, we risk missing the truth. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul takes us to Christianity at its source and we read, "The greatest of these is love." (verse 13)

It's not an oversight. Paul has only just mentioned faith. He writes, “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (verse 2) Far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them, “These three remain: faith, hope and love,” and without a moment's hesitation he makes his choice, “But the greatest of these is Love.”

Nor is it prejudice. We tend to recommend our own strengths to others, but love wasn't Paul's strong point. We can see a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening throughout his character as Paul grows old; but the hand that wrote, “The greatest of these is love,” was originally blood stained.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians unique in singling out love as the greatest good. Other New Testament authors agree. Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply.” (1 Peter 4:8). Above all. And John goes even further, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8).

Drummond wants to know what the greatest thing in the world is. He has really thought it through and wants to challenge others to ask the question for themselves. This essay began life as an impromptu address at a country retreat, sitting in front of the fire.

The famous evangelist, D L Moody, had been asked to speak but he was tired and suggested Henry Drummond might take his place. And Drummond's words were so beautiful and striking that Moody wanted to use the address in his Bible Schools.

Notice how Henry Drummond begins. He argues that if you want to live life well you'd better make some wise choices. And then he points out how many make the mistake of thinking faith is the greatest thing (and therefore the thing to seek). What other things do followers of Jesus mistakenly put first today? Might they include right doctrine, and tithing, and high moral standards? These are not wrong in themselves but they are not where our hearts should be focussed.

Drummond's message is just as relevant today. Seek first the Kingdom, seek to be close to Jesus who is love made real in a person. Paul writes that love is greater than faith or hope and Drummond sets out to show that Paul is not writing out of prejudice or carelessness and that other New testament authors agree with him. Right here at the start of his essay he has laid the foundations. Love is the greatest thing - or as Drummond puts it, the 'Summum bonum'.

< No earler items | The Essay | The fulfilment of the law >

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