Love (prop. אִהֲבָה, ἀγάπη) is an attachment of the affections to any object, accompanied with an ardent desire to promote its happiness: 1, by abstaining from all that could prove injurious to it; 2, by doing all that call promote its welfare, comfort, or interests, whether it is indifferent to these efforts, or whether it appreciates them. This is what Kant calls practical love, in contradistinction from pathological love, which is a sort of sensual self-love, and a desire for community in compliance with our own feelings. In reality, love is something personal, emanating from a personal being and directed towards another, and thus its moral or immoral character is determined by the fact of its being called forth by the real worth of the personality towards which it is directed, or by the physical appearance of the latter, or by the advantages it may offer.
In the Christian sense, as we find it spoken of in the Word of God, love is not merely a peculiar disposition of the feelings, or a direction of the will of the creature, though this also must have its root in the creative principle, in God. God is love, the original, absolute love (1Jo 4:9). As the absolute love, he is at once subject and object, i.e., he originally loved himself, had communion with himself, imparted himself to himself, as also we see mention made of God's love before the creation of the world, the love of the Father towards the Son (Joh 17:24), Derived from this love is the love which calls into being and preserves his creatures. Creatures, that is, existences which come from God, are through him and for him; not having life by themselves, but immediately dependent upon God existing by his will, and consequently to be destroyed at his will; created in time, and consequently subject to time, developing themselves in it to the full extent of their nature according to God's thoughts, with the possibility of departing therefrom, which it were impossible to suppose of God, the eternally real and active idea of himself. In regard to the creature, the divine love is the will of God to communicate to it the fullness of his life, and even the will to impart, according to its receptive faculty, this fullness into something which is not himself, yet which, as coming from God, tends also towards God, and finds its rest in him, and its happiness in doing his will. But, as emanating from an active God this love, with all its fullness, can only be directed towards a similarly organized and consequently personal creature, conscious of its relation to God and of himself as its end, possessing in itself the fullness of created life (microcosm).
It must, then, be man towards whom this divine love is directed as the object of God's delight, created after his image. This love is manifested in the earnestness of the discipline (commands and threats, Ge 2:17) employed to strengthen this resemblance to God, to educate man as a ruler by obedience, as also by the intercourse of God with man; and, after the fall, by the hope and confidence awakening promises, as well as in the humiliating condemnation to pain, labor, and death. All these contain evidences of love, of this will of God to hold man in his communion, or to restore him to it. At the bottom of it lies an appreciation of his worth, namely, of his inalienable resemblance to God, of the imparted divine breath. This appreciation is also the foundation of compassionate love, for it is only on this ground that man is worthy of the divine affection. But it is also the ground which renders him deserving of punishment. For punishment, this destiny of evil, which is felt as a hinderance of life, is in one respect an expiation, i.e. a retrieving of God's honor, being incurred by that disregard of the value of his communion with God, and consequently of the real life, which must be considered as injurious to the life of man, and leading him to ruin; on the other hand, it is inducement to conversion, as this consequence of sin leads man to recognize the restoration of this disturbed relation to God as the one thing needful and desirable. Punishment consequently proceeds in both cases on the assumption of the worth of man in the eve of God, and is a proof of it. Hence the anger of God, as manifested by these punishments, is but another form of his love. It is a reaction of rejected love which manifests itself in imparting suffering and pain on the one who rejects it, proving thereby that its rejection is not a matter of indifference to it. This love may not be apparent at first sight, but it is clearly revealed in God's conduct towards all mankind, as well towards the heathen as towards the chosen people. God allowed the heathen to walk in their own ways (Ac 14:17); he allows them to fall into all manner of evil (Ro 1:21 sq.) in order to bring them to a sense of their misery and helplessness as well as of their guilt. But at the bottom of this anger there is still love, and this is clearly shown in the fact that he manifested himself to them in their conscience, and also took care of them (Ac 14:17; Ac 17:25 sq.). But, if this love is thus evinced towards the heathen, it is still more clearly manifested towards the chosen people, the fact of their choice being itself a manifestation of that love (De 7:6 sq.), which is further shown both in the blessings and punishments, the anger and the mercy, of which they were the objects. Holiness and mercy are the chief characteristics of the divine love as manifested towards Israel; the one raising them above their weaknesess, their evils, and their sins; the other understanding these failings, and seeking to deliver and restore them. But in both also is manifested the constancy of that love, its faithfulness; and the exactitude with which it adheres to the covenant it had itself made evinces its righteousness by saving those who fear God and obey his commandments. Both holiness and mercy are, for the moral, religious consciousness, harmonized in the expiatory sacrifice, in a figurative, typical manner in the O.T., and in a real, absolute manner in the N.T. The divine right in regard to fallen humanity is maintained, the death penalty is paid, but in such a manner that the chief of all, the divine Son of man, who is also Son of God, suffers it for all, of his own free will, and out of love to man, in accordance with the wishes of his Father. Thus the curse of sin and death is removed from humanity, and the possibility of a new existence of righteousness and felicity restored.
The New Covenant is therefore the full revelation of the spirit and object of the divine love. The incarnation of the Son of God is the revelation of God himself, and leads to his self-impartation by the Holy Spirit. Hence the eternal love discloses itself as being, in its inner nature, the love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father by the Holy Ghost, which proceeds from both, and is the fullness of the love that unites them, whence we can say that. God is love; as also, in its manifestation, it is the divine love towards fallen creatures, which is the will to restore their perfect communion with God by means of the all-sufficient expiatory sacrifice of the God-man, and the communication of the Holy Spirit, by which both the Father and the Son come to dwell in the hearts of men, thus forming a people of God's own, as was postulated, but not yet realized in the O.T. The love of God in man, therefore, is the consciousness of being loved by God (Ro 5:5), resulting in a powerful impulse of love towards the God who has loved us first in Christ (1Jo 4:19), and an inward and strong affection towards all who are loved by God in Christ (1Jo 4:11); for the divine love, even when dwelling in man, remains all- embracing. This love takes the form of a duty (1Jo 4:11), but at the same time becomes a gradually strengthening inclination. And this is the completion or the ripening of the divine love in man (ἐν τούτῳ τετελείωται), that it manifests itself in positive results for the advantage of others.
We find the beginning and examples of this love under the old dispensation where mention is made of desire after God, joy in him, eagerness to serve him, zeal in doing everything to please and honor him. The inclination towards those who belong to God, the holy communion of love in God, that characteristic feature of the N.T., is also foreshadowed in the O.T. by the people of God, who are regarded as one in respect to him, and whose close, absolute communion with God is represented by the image of marriage. This image is still repeated in the N.T., nevertheless in such a manner that the union is represented as not yet accomplished; for, though Christ is designated as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride, the wedding is made to coincide with the establishment of his kingdom. Thus considered, the love of God and the furtherance of the love of God are still a figurative expression. God wants the whole heart of his people: one love, one sacrifice, exclusively directed towards him, so that none other should exist beside it; and that all inclinations of love towards any creature should be comprised in it, derived from it, and return to it. On this account his love is called jealous, and he is said to be a jealous God. This jealousy of God, however, this decided requiring of an exclusive submission on the part of his people, is, on the other hand, the tenderest carefulness for their welfare, their honor, and their restoration. The close connection, indeed the unity of both, is evident. The effect of this jealousy of God is to kindle zeal in those who serve him, and consequently opposition against all that opposes, or even does not conduce to his service. This is a manifestation of love towards God, which love is essentially a return of his own love, and consequently gratitude, accompanied by the highest appreciation, and an earnest desire for communion with him. It includes joy in all that serves God, absolute submission to him, and a desire to do everything for his glory. The love in God, i.e., the love of those who feel themselves bound together by that common bond, is essentially of the same character; but, from the fact of its being directed towards creatures who are afflicted with many failings and infirmities, must also include — as distinguished from the love towards God — a willingness to forgive, which makes away with all hinderances to full communion, a continual friendliness under all circumstances, consequently patience and gentleness, zeal for their improvement, and sympathy for their failings and misfortunes. But as the love of the creative, redemptive, and sanctifying God, extending further than merely those who have attained to that communion with him, embraces all, so should also the love of those who love God. Yet in the divine love itself there is a distinction made, inasmuch as God's love towards those who love him and keep his commandments is a strengthening, sustaining pleasure in them (Joh 14:21,23), while his love towards the others is benevolence and pity, which, according to their conduct, the disposition of their hearts. and their receptivity, is either not felt at all by them, or only produces pain, fear o, or, again, hope, desire, etc., but not a feeling of complete, abiding joy. So in the love of the children of God towards the human race we find the distinction between brotherly and universal love (Ro 12:10; Heb 13:1; 1Pe 1:22; 2Pe 1:7). In both we find the characteristics of kindness and benevolence, sympathy, willingness to help, gentleness, and patience; but in the universal love there is wanting the feeling of delight, of an equal aim, a complete reciprocity, of conscious unity in the one highest good.
Love also derives a special determination from the personality, the spiritual and essential organization of the one who loves, and also his particular position. It manifests itself in friendship as a powerful attraction, a hearty sympathy of feelings, a strong desire for being together and enjoying a communion of thoughts and feelings. In sexual love it is a tender reciprocal attraction, a satisfaction in each other as the mutual complement of life, and a desire for absolute and lasting community of existence. Parental, filial, and brotherly love can be considered as a branch of this affection. Both friendship and love have the full sanction of Christian morals when based on the love of God. As wedded love is an image of the relation between the Lord and his people, or the Church (Eph 5:23 sq.), so paternal, filial, and brotherly love are respectively images of the love of God towards his children, of their love towards him, and of their love towards each other. All these relations may want this higher consecration, and yet be well regulated; they have then a moral character. But they may also be disorderly: friendship can be sensual, selfish, and even degenerate into unnatural sexual connection; sexual love may become selfish, having no other object but the gratification of lust; parental love may change to self-love, producing over-indulgence, and fostering the vices of the children; brotherly love can degenerate into flattery and spoiling. Thus this feeling, which in its principle and aim should be the highest and noblest, can become the most common, the worst, and the most unworthy. Both kinds of love are mentioned in Scripture. The highest and purest tendency of the heart is in the Bible designated by the same name as the more natural, immoral, or disorderly tendency. The same was the case among the Greeks and Romans: ῎Ερως, Amor,, and Α᾿φροδίτη, Venus, had both significations, the noble and the common; but Christianity has in Christ and in his Church the perfect illustration and example of true love, whose absolute type is in the triune life of God himself. This divine love, as it exists in God, and through the divine Spirit in the heart of man, together with the connection of both, is represented to us in Scripture as infinitely deep and pure. We find it thus represented in the Old Testament (see De 33:3; Isa 49:13 sq.; 57:17 sq.; 55:7 sq.; Jer 31:20; Jer 32:37 sq.; Eze 34:11 sq.; Ho 3:2 sq.; Mic 7:18 sq.). Then in the whole mission of Christ, and in what he stated of his own love and of the Father's, see Mt 11:28; Lu 15; Joh 4:10,14; Joh 6:37 sq.; 7:37 sq.; 9:4; 10:12 sq.; 12:35; 13:1; 15:12, 13; 17; and, for the testimony of the apostles, Ro 5:5 sq.; 8:28 sq.; 11:29 sq.; 1Co 13; Eph 1:3,17 sq.; 5:1 sq.; 1Jo 3:4, etc. These statements are corroborated by the testimony of Christians in all ages, who have all been witness to this love, however much their views may have differed on other points. In later times, ethical essays on the subject have thrown great light on the nature and modes of manifestation of this love; see among them, Daub, Syst. d. christl. Moral, 2:1, page 310; Marheineke, Syst. d. theol. Moral, page 470; Rothe, Theol. Elthik, 2:350. — Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 8:388 sq. See Wesleyana, page 54.