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1 John 4:1-3
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God
The test of truth--confessing Christ
In the Word of God we are warned against sitting in judgment on others.
Especially are we enjoined not to cultivate a censorious and uncharitable spirit. But in the text Christians seem to be enjoined to exercise their powers of judgment and discrimination in another way. They are called upon to try the spirits whether they are of God. To try a spirit is not to try an individual; it is not to try even a community of men; rather is it to put to the test of enlightened reason some principle they follow as true, some institution they uphold as right.
I. The scientific false prophet; or antiChrist in the schools, especially in connection with the study and interpretation of nature. There are three points in the scientific world that appear to be prominent. These points are--first, that our highest business here is to study nature--that nature at least in relation to this present life is supreme; second, that natural or physical law is absolutely uniform or unbending, and has been so since the creation of the universe; third, that the human race is to be elevated, regenerated, or truly developed from the basis of nature, and in accordance merely with natural laws. Now, if it really were so, we can have no hesitation in saying that the position and claims of the Christian religion are quite incompatible with it. If the dream of such thinkers were destined to be realised, Christianity must slowly fade from the earth, with other superstitions. It is only too evident what the spirit and hope of such systems is. Take the first position--that nature or the visible material scene around us is the supreme influence and power in relation to our life upon the earth. That involves the denial of a Divine revelation. Take the second position--that for incalculable ages Nature has been undeviating in her course. That law maintains its slow, grand march through millions of years, without deviation, acceleration, or interruption. That may be thought a grand idea; but as it is advanced in certain systems, it is not a true one; for it is a shutting out of the miraculous altogether. Take the third position--that man is saved by obedience to natural law, and that the human race will be elevated and ennobled only as men study the laws of nature, and conform themselves to them. That is a doctrine put forth by some. It looks with a sinister and disparaging eye on Christianity and the Church. It does not hesitate sometimes to say that all religions have been a misfortune to the world. When the plague comes this spirit declares that prayer is useless, and that the only thing that can save us is to perfect our sanitary arrangements. This is a spirit of antichrist, for it is the denial of a moral government in the Scriptural sense of the word.
II. The secular false prophet; or antichrist in the kingdoms of the world. In as far as the kingdoms of the world are necessary to maintain order, to suppress violence, and repel invasion, they are the ordinance of God, but in so far as they perpetuate injustice and wrong, of course they cannot be of God; they are babels and antichrists, standing in the way of His kingdom who has the absolute right to rule. Now it is the duty of everyone to whom the light of the gospel comes to become a subject of the kingdom of Christ. That light will show him what is wrong in existing systems. It will show him that some of them are fundamentally wrong, but it will not teach him to remedy that wrong by violence and revolution. The eternal moral principle that truth and justice cannot be permanently advanced by mere physical force, enters into the foundation of Christ’s kingdom. And if anyone asks, How then are we to hold our own in the world? the only answer that can be given is, that it is our duty to do as Christ did. Because God lives all those who have faith in Him will live also.
III. The literary false prophet; or antichrist in the world of letters. This is a time of great thinkers, great writers, great bookmakers. We do not speak of individuals. We have no right to judge them; but their works we may judge, and the spirit of their works we may try whether it is of God or no. Now we know that some of the greatest works in the world are books written in defence of Christianity; but it is also true that some writers of considerable power have taken up positive ground against Christianity and have sufficiently shown that they do not believe that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. They do not believe in Him as the eternal Son of God, and the only Saviour of men. Some of them have written books expressly to deny this. But this is not so much what the text suggests. There are other writers of great power and influence in both hemispheres of the world who occupy rather a negative and undefined position in relation to Christ and Christianity. They have written upon almost every subject of human thought--upon government and the Church, upon history and biography, upon morals and destiny. They have gone round the world to find heroes and representative men, and have said many true and striking things about them; but, strange to say, they have never clearly informed the world as to what they think of Christ. They are unaccountably reticent upon a subject that is the most important of all.
IV. The religious false prophet; or antichrist in the ecclesiastical world. The antichrist of an atheistical, political system; of a poor, blind, hero worship--the worship of mere intellectual ability and unfathomable cunning; and the antichrist of a barren Protestantism which has a name to live while it is dead--such forms as these are little better than the Papacy.
V. The social false prophet; or antichrist in the work of everyday life. That is the most deadly form of antichrist which professes great respect for Christianity, but lives in continual opposition to its principles; and we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that a great amount of the Christian profession of this country seems little more than a mere profession. This is called a Christian country, but look at the woes that are festering in the midst of us; think of the rank worldliness and heartlessness that is baptized into the name of Christ. Is this not the reason why prayer seems unanswered, and troubles are thickening upon the land? (F. Ferguson, D. D.)
Our righteousness exercised in trying the spirits; the test, confessing that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh
I. It properly belongs to the Spirit to “confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” He had much to do with the flesh in which Jesus Christ came. He prepared for Him a body in the Virgin’s womb, so as to secure that He came into the world pure and sinless. And all throughout His sojourn on earth the Spirit ministered to Him as “Jesus Christ come in the flesh”; He could not minister to Him otherwise. It is the flesh, or humanity, of Jesus Christ that brings Him within the range of the Spirit’s gracious care. It was His human experience that the Spirit animated and sustained; and it is with His human experience also that the Spirit deals when He “takes of what is Christ’s and shows it unto us.” His object is to make us one with “Jesus Christ as come in the flesh.” That practically is His confession to us and in us. Let us see what it implies.
1. He identifies us with Jesus Christ in His humiliation. In our Divine regeneration He brings us to be subject to the authority and commandments of God--willingly subject--our nature being renewed into the likeness of His.
2. The Spirit identifies us with Jesus Christ, not only in His humiliation, but in its conditions and liabilities. His coming in the flesh is His consenting to be crucified for us; the Spirit in us confessing Him as come in the flesh makes us willing to be crucified with Him. “In my flesh I shall see God” was the hope of the patriarch Job. It is made sure by Jesus Christ come in the flesh, and by the Spirit confessing in us that He is come.
II. This accordingly is the secret of our present victory over anti-Christian spirits and men: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them” (verse 4).
1. The victory is a real victory got over the false prophets or teachers, who are not of God, whom the spirit of antichrist inspires. And it is a victory over them personally; not over their doctrines and principles merely, but over themselves--“ye have overcome them.” It is the actual “coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh,” and His actual accomplishment, in the flesh, of all that in the flesh He came for, that they resent and resist. It is that which Satan, the original spirit of antichrist, would fain have set himself to hinder; moving Herod to slay Jesus in His childhood, and Judas to betray Him in his manhood; tempting Jesus to make shipwreck of His integrity. And it is your actual personal participation with Him, as “Jesus Christ come in the flesh”; your being really one with Him in that wondrous humiliation, in its spirit and its fruit; that, so far as you are concerned, they seek to frustrate. In realising that, you get the better of them; confessing thus Jesus Christ come in the flesh, you have overcome them.
2. Your having overcome them is connected with your “being of God” (verse 4); which again is intimately connected with your “confessing that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (verse 2). Your being of God is the intermediate link between your confessing thus Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (verse 2), and your having overcome them who reject that truth (verse 4). The essential characteristic of the spirit of antichrist is that it is “not of God.” It does not look at the Saviour and the salvation as on the side of God; rather it takes an opposite view, and subjects God to man. It subordinates everything to human interests and human claims; looks at everything from a human and mundane point of view; measures everything by a human standard; submits everything to human opinion--in a word, conceives and judges of God after the manner of man. This, indeed, may be said to be the distinctive feature of all false religions, as well as of all corruptions of the true religion. They exalt man. They dislike such representations as bring in the element of God’s holy name and righteous authority, and lay much stress upon that element as one of primary consideration in the plan of saving mercy. Hence they naturally shrink from owning explicitly Jesus Christ as come in the flesh to make atonement by satisfying Divine justice. But “ye are of God, little children,” in this matter; in the view that you take, and the conception that you form of Jesus Christ come in the flesh; of the end of His coming, and the manner in which that end is attained. You look at that great fact, first and chiefly in its relation to God, and as on the side of God. It is from God and for God that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. So He always taught; and so you firmly believe. You sit at the feet of Jesus Christ come in the flesh. You stand beside His Cross. You do not now stumble at the mystery of its bloody expiation; or quarrel with the great propitiation sacrifice through unbelief of its necessity. Nay, being “of God,” on His side and in His interest in the whole of this great transaction, you can meekly, in faith, commit to Him and leave in His hands even the most terrible of those ultimate and eternal consequences, involving the aggravated guilt and final ruin of many, that you cannot but see to be inseparably mixed up with the confession that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
Testing false teachers
I. The general counsel--“Beloved, believe not every spirit,” etc. Those who are called “spirits” in the first part of it are denominated “prophets” in the last. They are the ministers of the Word, whether they write or preach it. They are supposed to be under the dominion of other spirits. These may be good, or they may be evil. Such being the position of the teachers of the Church, we must at once perceive the propriety of the counsel which is given respecting them. “Believe not every spirit.” You are not to suppose because a man is a minister he must be sound in his views, or faithful in his office, or exemplary in his life. All professing ministers must be tested by members of the Church. Nor let us fail particularly to notice what is to be tried in the matter of all ministers of the Word. It is “whether they are of God.” How solemn the duty! Has God sent them? Do they bear their credentials from Him? Do they speak His truth? Do they maintain His cause? Do they promote His glory? A reason is assigned for this duty, “Because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” It was so even in the days of the apostles. All their influence, and zeal, and fidelity could not prevent it. The opponents of the truth were many--many in numbers, many in their forms of error, and many in the spirit and practices of enmity which they discovered. It is, therefore, no strange thing that happens if the same be found in all subsequent ages. Nor let us overlook the powerful motive by which the members of the Church are urged to fidelity in the duty here required of them. Compassion for false teachers should operate on them. Their guilt is great and we should earnestly seek to deliver them from it. What is the crime of the man who sets up a false light on the dangerous shore? Such is that of the false teacher. But it is not he only that is concerned. Our Lord has said, “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” In like manner they who mislead the members of the Church draw them with themselves to destruction. Above all, if we encourage false teachers we are held accountable with them and shall be partakers in their condemnation.
II. Having given this general counsel the apostle proceeds to give a particular illustration of both the error that might be introduced and of the duty of opposing it in the subsequent verses--“hereby know ye the spirit of God,” etc. There are signs by which the minister who is under the teaching and influence of the Spirit of God may be known. What are they? They are both positive and negative. “Every spirit that confesseth,” etc.
1. To confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is to own the Divinity of His mission.
2. To confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is to own the Divinity of His person.
3. To confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is to own the grace of both His mission and His person (2 Corinthians 8:9).
4. Finally, to confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to own Him to be an all-sufficient Saviour. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The springs and motives of false pretences to the Holy Spirit; with the rules and marks of trying and detecting them
These words very plainly pointed at the false pretenders to the Spirit, appearing in those early days.
I. From what springs or motives the false pretences to the spirit generally proceed. Vainglory, or a thirst after fame, is often the most prevailing motive. But to go a little deeper; self-love, of some kind or other, is the general root of all. Who does not wish to be one of the favourites of heaven, and to be extraordinarily illuminated, or conducted by God’s Holy Spirit? When the pleasing delusion is once indulged thus far, the man begins presently to fancy himself a kind of saint upon earth, or perhaps an apostle. It is not to be doubted but that persons of this unhappy complexion must have some appearances whereby to deceive their own hearts.
II. By what rules or marks any pretences of that kind may be tried, and detected to be false and vain.
1. Boasting and ostentation are a flat contradiction to the very supposal of the ordinary graces boasted of; because humility and modesty are the very chief graces upon which all the rest hang.
2. Another sure, mark of a false spirit is disobedience to rule and order, contempt of lawful authority, and especially any intruding into what does not belong to them.
3. Another sure mark of a false spirit is the laying down deceitful rules or tokens whereby to judge, whether or when a man has the spirit of God. There have been many who have laid great stress upon I know not what sensible emotions, or violent impulses, coming upon them at times.
III. How much it concerns us to be upon our guard in such cases. Religion, like all other weighty concernments, is best carried on in the calm, regular, and sedate way; and there fore great care should be taken to keep up the old and well-tried methods, rather than to change them for new devices, which will never answer. (D. Waterland, D. D.)
Rules for trial of the spirits
I. What rules they had in the apostles’ days to try the spirits, and to distinguish the false prophets or teachers from the true.
1. The miraculous gifts which were then bestowed upon the true prophets or teachers.
2. Their obedience and subjection to the apostles of our Blessed Saviour, as the great directors of their ministry.
3. The agreement of their doctrine with the doctrines taught by Christ and His apostles.
II. What rules there are in our days, to know and distinguish them so as that the honest and well-meaning Christians may not be imposed upon by false prophets or teachers.
1. If men pretend to come to us with an extraordinary message from God, or boast of an extraordinary inspiration, such as the apostles had, we may justly require of them to give the same, or the like extraordinary proof of it.
2. If they pretend to no more than a common and ordinary assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, such as any good man may lay claim to, then are they subject to Christ and His apostles, and obey those orders and injunctions they have left us in the New Testament.
3. If anyone, though never so regularly called to the office of the ministry, should preach a doctrine contrary to the doctrine of the gospel, such a teacher is not to be heard--his spirit cannot be from God.
1. From what has been said we may learn to make a true judgment of those who take upon them the office of preachers.
2. We should take care that the wild notions and practices of these men do not create a prejudice in us, and possess us with a less esteem for religion in general, or any particular doctrines of Christianity; for there is nothing so good but may be mistaken or abused, and an ill use made of it.
3. That God assists good men, both in the knowledge and practice of their duty, by the secret operation of His Holy Spirit, is a plain and certain doctrine of Christianity; but that the motions of the Holy Spirit are to be distinguished from the natural workings of our own minds, or the suggestions of the evil spirit by anything to be felt in these motions themselves, does not appear from Holy Scripture. The only way we have to distinguish them is to bring them to the standard of truth, and those rules of right and wrong, of good and evil, which are fixed and certain. (Chas. Peters, M. A.)
The duty of testing the spirits
I. The faith of the Christian rests upon inward conviction, not on outward authority.
1. Scripture proof of this.
(1) We are commanded to test the doctrines delivered to us. (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 10:15).
(2) The foundation of our faith is declared to be such (John 6:45; John 14:26; John 16:13; Ephesians 2:18; Eph 4:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Heb 8:10-11; 1 John 2:27; also Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
2. The occasions on which the apostles spoke with authority of their own had to do with minor matters. The gospel they had to deliver was entrusted to them from above, (1 Corinthians 9:16; Galatians 1:8-9). Over that they had no power, (Ephesians 3:2-3; Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:11).
II. Yet outward authority has its own function in the Church of God. It deals, not with the truths of Christianity itself, but with rules and ordinances, which touch, not the essence of the Church’s life, but its details.
III. The true limits of outward authority. Every society must have its rules. Our conscience must be satisfied that there is nothing wrong in principle in these rules.
IV. By what test are we to try the spirits?
V. There are many errors abroad. St. John warns the Christians of his day against error. The warning is equally necessary now. It needs not to specify instances. They fall under four heads:
(1) traditional corruptions of the faith, whether in a Roman or a Protestant direction;
(2) new revelations, such as Swedenborgianism, Irvingism, or Mormonism;
(3) neglect of portions of revealed truth, such as has often led to the formation of sects; and
(4) denial of all revelation, as in the various forms of infidelity. (J. J. Lias, M. A.)
The true and false spirits
In this world there appears to be no truth without its counterfeit, no religion without hypocrites, no gold without tinsel, nor good wheat of God unmixed with tares. Christ is mimicked by Antichrist. Indeed, the more active is religious thought and life in any period, so much the more numerous and plausible are likely to be the forms of religious delusion and imposture. St. John has set forth in his last paragraph (1 John 3:19-24) the grounds of a Christian man’s assurance; he has traced it to its spring in the gift of the Spirit, who first kindled the life of God within ourselves. But, alas! even on this point deception is possible, and a warning is necessary. “Beloved,” he interjects, “don’t be believing every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are of God.” It is a common but perilous mistake occurring even in books of Christian evidence, to treat the supernatural as synonymous with the Divine. One is amazed at the facility with which many religious minded people fall into the meshes of spiritualism. Let them be persuaded that they are witnessing manifestations from another world, and they bow to them at once as Divine revelation, without considering their intrinsic character, their moral worth, their agreement with Scripture and established truth. Let it be proved to me that certain phenomena are “spiritual,” and I say, “Very possibly; but there are many spirits abroad in the world--some of them from the pit!” The Apostle Paul had had to deal with a similar opposition at Corinth, with spiritual and prophetical manifestations that contravened his teaching. And he speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:10 of the “discerning of spirits,” the power to distinguish genuine from spurious inspiration, as a supernatural grace bestowed upon certain members of the Church. On the same point he wrote to the Thessalonians earlier (verses 19, 20). Our Lord Himself foretold in His last discourses the rise of “false Christs and false prophets” to deceive the Church. “The false prophet” figures side by side with “the wild beast” in his visions in the Apocalypse, representing a corrupt form of religion abetting a cruel and persecuting worldly power. Elymas, the Jewish sorcerer of Paphos, was a specimen of this kind of trader in the supernatural (Acts 13:6). In the later Old Testament times such upstarts were numerous, men who professed to speak by revelation in Jehovah’s name, and who brought a more popular message than the true prophets, and for gain flattered the rulers and the multitude to their destruction. This last feature appears in St. John’s false prophets: “They are of the world”--animated by its spirit and tastes; “therefore they speak of the world (they utter what it prompts; they give back to the world its own ideas, and tickle its ear with its vain fancies), and the world heareth them.” Along with their worldly spirit, it is false doctrine rather than miracles or lying predictions that supplies the chief mark of the class of men denounced by our apostle. Accordingly, he puts them through a theological examination: he uses for their touchstone the Incarnate Deity of Jesus. In this way the apostle comes round again to the subject of 1 John 2:18-29, and the great conflict there announced between Christ and Antichrist. It is evident, from the whole Epistle, that the burning question of controversy just then was the nature of Jesus Christ--the reality of His bodily form, and the consistency of His seeming fleshly life with His higher Divine origin and being.
1. St. John’s crucial test of Christian belief lies, then, in the true confession of Christ Himself. “In this,” says the apostle, “you may know the Spirit of God.” One may repeat a creed glibly enough, and yet be very far from “confessing Jesus Christ.” We can only apprehend Him, and lay hold of the person of Christ with a realising mental grasp, by the aid of the Spirit of God: “No man can say Jesus is Lord,” declared the other theological apostle, “except in the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 12:3; Matthew 16:17). But mark the precise form given to this proof question by St. John: “Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh.” The content of this confession is variously construed by interpreters. Some read it, “confesseth Jesus Christ as come in flesh”--that is, “as the incarnate Messiah.” I do not think that either grammatical usage or the doctrinal situation points to this construction. Others, “confesseth Jesus Christ to be come in flesh;” but this makes “Jesus Christ” the specific name of Godhead, equivalent by itself to “the Son of God” (else it is no antithesis to “come in flesh”); and this is not at all obvious, nor John-like. We must read the expression as one continuous object: “Confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh.” To “confess Jesus Christ” is to confess the human Jesus, known in the gospel history, as the declared Messiah of God; and to confess Him “come, in flesh,” is to confess the Godhead in the humanity, to acknowledge Him as indubitable man, but more than man--to confess, in short, “the Word made flesh.” For, of course, when you speak of one as “come (arrived) in flesh,” it is assumed that he has issued from some other, spiritual region, and that his flesh is the garb of a higher nature; otherwise the words are pointless (John 16:28). St. Paul’s watchword of confession in 1 Corinthians 12:3, belonged to the stage of conflict with original Jewish unbelief. As the Messiahship of the Nazarene was preached, the spirit of evil cried out--and Paul had frequently been thus interrupted in the Jewish synagogue--“Jesus is anathema, accursed of God! He was justly crucified; He is the abhorred, and not the elect of Israel!” But it is a more developed and subtle kind of error, bred within the Church, that is here unmasked. “Christ” is no longer, in St. John’s Ephesian circle, the disputed title of the crucified Jesus; it is His accepted designation; and the words Jesus Christ have coalesced by this time into the familiar name of the Redeemer. The rising Gnosticism of John’s day separated the words in a new fashion, by metaphysical analysis, not by historical distinction. The new prophets recoiled not from a crucified Messiah, but from a humanised God. Now St. John’s formula is precisely opposed to this popular heresy of Asia Minor, which tradition imputes to Cerinthus, the apostle’s personal antagonist. To “confess Jesus Christ come in flesh” is to declare the oneness of His Divine-human person as an abiding certainty, not from His baptism, but from His birth and onwards. (Note the force of the Greek perfect eleluthota, “arrived, come for good and all.”) The bearing of the expression is indicated by the marginal reading of the Revised Version in verse 3, which is probably a very ancient gloss upon the text: “Every spirit which dissolveth Jesus is not of God.” In this latter negative clause (verse 3a) it is to be observed the apostle writes “Jesus” with the Greek definite article, as much as to say “this Jesus”--“the Jesus thus defined--Jesus as the Church knows Him, as the apostles preached Him.” He it is whom the spirit of error rejects, and whose Person it would dissolve and destroy.
2. This brings us to St. John’s second test of true doctrine in the Church, the general consent of Christian believers. The teaching he denounced was repudiated by the Church; it found acceptance only in the outside world. The seductions of the false prophets are “overcome” by John’s “little children,” because they are born “of God”; there is in them a Spirit “greater than” the spirit that lives “in the world.” Plausible as the new teaching was, and powerful through its accord with the current of prevailing thought, St. John’s readers, as a body, had rejected it. They felt it could not be true. They had struggled with the network of error flung about them, and broken through the snare. They had received an “anointing (the ‘chrism’ which makes Christians) from the Holy One,” in virtue of which they “know the truth,” and detect, as by an inner, instinctive sense, the “lie” which is its counterfeit (1 John 2:20). Admittedly this test, taken by itself, is not easy to apply. The orthodoxy that prevails in any one Church, or at any given moment, is not necessarily the orthodoxy of the Spirit of God. You must take a sufficiently large area to get the consensus of Christian faith, and you must take the central and primary truths, not questions such as those of “the three orders” in Church government, or the refinements of the Quinquarticular controversy. The danger lies with us, not in the difficulty that attends a formal adoption of this confession of Christ, but in the ease with which men accept it in words but deny it in heart and life.
3. St. John in verse 6 clinches the two previous tests of the true or false spirits at work in the Church by a third--that of agreement with the apostolic testimony. “You are of God,” he declared in verse 4; but now adds, speaking for himself and his brother witnesses who had seen and handled the Word made flesh (1 John 1:1-3), “We are of God: and men are shown to be of God or not of God by the sole fact of their hearing or refusing us.” This was an enormous assumption to make, a piece of boundless arrogance, if it was not simple truth. But the claim has now the endorsement of eighteen centuries behind it. “He that knows God” (ho ginoskon, verse 5) is, strictly, “he who is getting-to-know”--the learner of God, the true disciple, the seeker after Divine truth. Is it not to the teaching of the New Testament that such men, all the world over, are infallibly drawn when it comes within their knowledge? They follow it, they listen to the Gospel and the Epistles, as the eye follows the dawning light and the intent ear the breaking of sweet music and the famished appetite the scent of wholesome food. The soul that seeks God, from whatever distance, knows when it hears the words of this Book that its quest is not in vain; it is getting what it wants! (G. G. Findlay, B. A.)
A caution against fanaticism
There is in the human mind a strong propensity: to believe in supernatural communications; and where fancy is ardent, and the power of reflection little cultivated, this propensity renders men either so credulous as to believe in the arrogant pretensions of others, or so vain as to set up their own. Here then we must inquire into the state of our own convictions. Have we the least reason to suppose that God will act upon our minds or those of others either in revealing new truths, or in explaining old, or in making us acquainted with future events, by any influence out of the ordinary course of His providence? We know but one way of accrediting a messenger from God; and that is by the power of working miracles. But amongst the pretenders to a Divine commission, not one has been found since the first age of Christianity who has established his claim upon this ground. “It is finished.” All the truths are promulgated which it concerns us to know; and all the miracles have been performed which were necessary to convince us that they are truths from God. To look after this for new revelations, new prophets, new miracles, is to despise the gospel of Christ, and to turn His grace into wantonness. But though we ought upon this ground to lend a deaf ear to anyone who in these times assumes a preternatural knowledge of the designs of God, this of itself will not guard us against the indulgence of a fanatical spirit. There are many who, though they believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, and in consequence reject such claims as we have just been exposing, yet entertain a notion not much less absurd, that the true sense of Scripture is revealed to them by the Spirit of God; whilst all those who do not admit their interpretation are actuated by the spirit of delusion. This is, in effect, to arrogate the gift of inspiration. By what evidence then is this claim supported? They tell you that they possess a certain consciousness of being born again; of having been guided to the truth by the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost. The same consciousness has been alleged, and with the same reason, for the most absurd and the most dangerous notions, political and religious, that ever were broached by the wildest or the weakest heads. But is not another man’s consciousness as good as yours? And may not he who holds doctrines directly the reverse of yours persuade himself that he too has the guidance of a Divine spirit? Who then is to judge between you? It should never be forgotten on this subject that the Almighty, in acting upon our minds, acts by stated laws adapted to the nature and circumstances of moral agents. He submits the revelation of His will to the test of our inquiries, and in all essential points it is so plain, that he who runs may read. The natural province of religious feeling lies not in points of faith, but in the exercises of devotion. Here, however, we must still try the spirit in which these feelings are indulged. For here too there is ample scope for delusion. We would not encourage the cold and heartless religion which never rises with delight to the contemplation and worship of that Being who has given us affections, that they may centre in Himself. But to produce this salutary effect our piety must be under the control of rational and sober views; though animated, not extravagant; though earnest, not familiar. Above all, we must not confound those temporary feelings, which are the offspring of accidental circumstances, with that devout habit of the mind which, though less ardent, is more salutary because it acts by a steady and permanent influence. As to what regards our own practice, let us be equally careful to avoid loud pretensions on the one hand, and never to shrink from the open but modest avowal of what we deem important truth on the other. Let us examine our opinions by the standard of the gospel, and try their practical efficacy by their habitual influence upon our temper and conduct. Let us never rest in emotions, however strong, however pious, till they are cherished into good habits. But let us also beware, lest in avoiding the extreme of fanaticism, we run into that of apathy and indifference. (J. Lindsay, D. D.)
Try the spirits
So St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Cf. among the distribution of gifts of the Spirit, those of criticism and discernment (1 Corinthians 12:10). The spirit of St. John and St. Paul, however deeply reverential and childlike, is not one of credulous fanaticism, or abject unreasoning submission to authority (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Timothy 4:1). It must have been a crisis time in the spiritual world (Revelation 9:1-3). We must remember that at Ephesus, and in Asia Minor generally, St. John found not only a heresy of the intellect in Cerinthus and the Gnostics, and a heresy of the senses in the Nicolaitanes, but also a heresy of magic and mysticism. The streets of Ephesus were full of theoleptics and convulsionaries; magical practices and invocations were pursued by the educated with a passionate interest to which modern spiritualism presents but a feeble parallel. St. Paul triumphed for a season (Acts 19:17-20). But Persian Magi, with their enchantments and philtres, Egyptian hierophants, Chaldean astrologers, came to Ephesus year after year. Cabalistic letters, called Ephesian letters, were in reputation for their power of healing or divination. Apollonius of Tyana found an enthusiastic reception in Ephesus. It may be added that St. John’s Epistles contain no point of the apostles exercising gifts of healing. (Abp. Wm. Alexander.)
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God--
Characteristic nature of the influences of the Holy Spirit with reference to personal religion
I. The characteristic nature of the influences of the Holy Spirit.
1. Their perfect accordance with the written Word.
2. Self-abasement under a sense of sin.
3. A faithful reliance on the covenanted mercy of God in Christ.
4. A spirit of prayer.
5. It uniformly excites in the soul a principle of love.
6. There is one other point characteristic of the influence of the Holy Spirit within the soul, to which we must advert the influential principle of holiness.
II. The nature of this implanted holiness. It is no abstract reverie about the perfectibility of man’s nature--a dream originating in a half-informed imagination. The holiness of the believer has a definite character, and a model no less authoritative than it is luminously distinct. (E. Yoking, M. A.)
Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God--
Christ made a phantom
Did ever human folly go so far as this, asserting the unreality of Christ’s bodily presence, and making Him but a phantom? Even so is the testimony of history. The apostle had felt the heaving of that breast, the beating of that heart, and he arrayed himself firmly and intelligibly against the philosophy of his times, that really, in effect, made Jesus Christ a phantom--an existence without bodily proportions and substantiality. To exalt the purity of Christ, to make Him the illustrious soul they desired to recognise Him, they were forced to deny the reality of His bodily presence, and maintain that it was but show, without substance. That He actually died upon the Cross they could not allow, and some argued that when the Cross was taken by Simon the Cyrenean, a change was made, and the Cyrenean was actually crucified, while, in his shape and appearance, Jesus passed away. How absurd the conclusions to which theories drive men! Against these ideas the apostle protested. He that professeth not that Christ was really a man, a proper substantiality, is not of God--is not instructed by the Divine Spirit--hath not the truth. There are many who do not weigh well this matter. They deem it of little consequence whether they have an ideal or an historical personage as the embodiment of excellence. They say the idea is sufficient, and rest satisfied with that. They talk of Christianity being as old as creation; that it is but the growth of the idea of the race; but they overlook the essential difference between the effect of a mere idea and an actual person, and that if by any subtlety of metaphysics, or play of poetic fancy, or theological vagary, we make Jesus not to have laboured and suffered, died and rose, as the Gospels represent Him, the real, regenerating power of His example is gone; it is but as fine poetry, or fine music, and the whole of Christ’s resistance of evil is less than the actor’s performance. I pity those who thus dismiss Christ as a phantom that has spoken. Dream or reality, fable or historical fact, it is all the same to them. Not so with John’s estimate of what man would need. He that confesseth not that the Christ of whom my Gospel treats, who is there portrayed as I saw Him; he who denies that that excellence came in the flesh, is not of God. He denies God’s greatest benefaction. He accepts not the grandest thing ever done for humanity. He does not believe that the highest ideal of character has been realised. What we want is such a sight of Jesus as will exert a transforming power. It was this kind of seeing Jesus that wrought the vast change which took place in the first centuries of the Christian Church. It gave new elements to thought. It made life more to be desired. It poured into the channel of human activity new forces of civilisation and progress, and every department of social life felt the power of the grandest of all lives. Phantom though He may be to many, Jesus has filled the world with His presence. It cannot be denied. It is a moral, spiritual power. It has its judgment seat in our midst, and men of the world, of the bar and the senate, instead of attempting to set aside His authority when it crosses their path, try their power to bring His consecrated name to the support of their position. Christ is no phantom. He is before us in social usages, laws, institutions--in the best blessings of our homes, the best aids to social improvement, the happiest tendencies of the wondrous activities of the world. (Henry Bacon.)
The object of faith
Three dangers, arising from as many different quarters, seem at this moment to assail the faith of the Church.
1. The first of these springs from the aversion which is very widely felt towards anything approaching to an exact and definite theological system. I speak of that large mass of half-educated minds, the aggregate or average of whose sentiments forms very largely what is commonly called public opinion; I speak of those, too, who aspire to be leaders of that public opinion. Such persons profess the utmost respect for what they believe to be Christianity, but repudiate whatever religion comes before them in a definite and tangible shape. Now, if these minor sceptics would carry out their own views with anything like consistency, they would at least wrong nobody but themselves. Content with denying the possibility of arriving at the truth, they would leave others to enjoy undisturbed their real or fancied possession of it; remembering that if it be impossible to prove that any religious system is true, it must be equally impossible to prove that any religious system is false. They would think it enough to regard creeds and orthodoxy with contemptuous pity, without expressing opinions on a subject upon which they are proud to be ignorant, or raising a clamour against those whose adoption of a fixed standard of belief rebukes their own indifference.
2. The next peril comes from men of a totally different stamp, a nobler sort than the others, persons of strong religious convictions, and professing a rigid orthodoxy of a certain kind. They accept the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and other doctrines which, whether true or false, are not fundamental. But their creed is out of all keeping and perspective, for they lay but little stress upon the weightier matters of revealed religion; while the objects of present or recent controversy assume an exaggerated importance in their eyes. The end of it is that they become Protestants, or Churchmen, or Arminians, or Supralapsarians, or anything rather than Christians. And if, as is often the case, they have been led to dwell almost exclusively upon what may be called the subjective doctrines of the gospel--those which regard the work of redemption as it reveals itself in the inner man--the danger comes to them in a more subtle shape. For the internal and spiritual character of those doctrines seduces men readily into the belief that the profession of them is a guarantee for spirituality.
3. The third proceeds from persons who profess a perfectly correct belief, while they are not at all spiritual, nor always particularly practical. The true object of the confession is not so properly the Incarnation, as the Saviour regarded as Incarnate. Yet creeds and dogmas have their proper function, so far forth as they give our faith a definite object to fasten on. A Christ who is not come in the flesh would be no Christ at all. (W. B. Jones, M. A.)
1 John 4:4-5
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world
The advantages of truth, in opposition to error
Divine truth carries greater evidence along with it.
1. The doctrines which are from God have a more intrinsical goodness in them, and teach such things as are most worthy of God, and more likely to proceed from Him.
2. The external confirmation of Divine doctrines is greater and carries more conviction along with it. By external confirmation I mean chiefly that of miracles.
3. Besides the goodness of the doctrines which are from God, and the external confirmation of them by miracles, the Spirit of God doth likewise illuminate good men, and those who are desirous to know the truth, and hath promised to lead them into it, and to assist them in discerning between truth and falsehood (John 7:17).
II. The motives which good men have to persuade them to adhere to truth and holiness are more powerful than the motives to the contrary. The believing that “Jesus is the Son of God” infers the belief of His doctrine, and consequently of that eminent part of it, the eternal recompense of another world, which, whosoever firmly believes, will be able to resist and overcome all the temptations of this world.
III. Those who sincerely embrace and obey the truth of God have a greater assistance and are acted by a more powerful spirit and principle, than, that which is in the world.
1. There are these two principles in the world, the Spirit of God and the devil, very active and powerful, the one in good, the other in bad men.
2. The Spirit of God which is in good men is greater than he that is in the world: He is more able and ready to assist men to good purposes than the devil is to tempt and help forward that which is evil.
(1) The Spirit of God is more powerful than the devil.
(2) The Spirit of God is as willing to assist men to good purposes as the devil is to the contrary.
(3) The Spirit of God hath a more free and immediate access to the minds of good men, and a more intimate conjunction with, and operation upon them, than the devil.
3. In what ways the Spirit of God doth move and assist good men.
(1) By exercising good motions in us, and enabling us to bring them to effect.
(2) By supporting us under persecution for religion. (Abp. Tillotson.)
The Spirit of Christ in us greater than the spirit of antichrist in the world
1. “He that is in the world is great.” And his greatness lies in this, that he operates in a two-fold way. He forms and fashions the world spiritually; and he finds for it, or makes for it, appropriate and congenial spiritual food. The world, in a sense, lives, and moves, and has its being, in him. He is in it as the spring of its activities, the dictator of its laws, the guider of its pursuits and pleasures; in a word, “the ruler of its darkness.” The darkness of its deep alienation from God, he rules. And he rules it very specially for the purpose of getting the world to be contented with an image, instead of the reality, of godliness. He takes advantage of whatever may be the world’s mood at the time, as regards God and His worship, throws himself into it, controlling or inflaming it, as he may see cause, so as to turn it to his own account. And then he contrives to bring under his sway prophets or teachers, not always consciously false, often meaning to be true, able men, holy men, men of God and of prayer, preeminently so it may be. And bringing into contact the world which he has doctored and the doctors whom he has tutored, he adjusts them skilfully to one another. He causes his teachers, perhaps insensibly, to draw much of their inspiration from the particular world which, as to its religious bias, he has influenced with an eye to their teaching. And so “they are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.”
II. But “greater is He that is in you, little children,” for He is the Lord God Almighty. He is strong; and He “strengthens you with might by His Spirit in the inner man; Christ dwelleth in your heart by faith; and you being rooted and grounded in love.” He is strong; and He makes you strong; strong in holding fast the form of sound words, and contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints; strong in cleaving to the truth as it is in Jesus; strong in your real, personal, close, and loving acquaintance with Him, “whom to know is life eternal.” He who is in you is God; God abiding in you; giving you the Spirit. He is in you; not merely on your side, at your right hand, around you; but within you. He is working in you; so working in you as to secure your safe triumph, in this great fight of truth against error, over the world and him who is in it. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
The secret of overcoming Satan
“He that is in you,” refers to God, and” He that is in the world,” refers to the devil; and the first thought that strikes us is that there is no attempt in the Bible to deny or dispute the greatness of Satan.
I. First, then, let us consider the greatness of Satan so that we may understand the character of the adversary whom we have to contend with. The Bible represents Satan as the head of a great army of foes. If you examine the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, you will find there seem to be seven grades of fallen angels, as there are seven grades of unfallen angels. We read of “Principalities,” “Powers,” “Dominions,” “Authorities,” “Rulers,” “Thrones,” “Wicked Spirits,” etc., and above them all, as I believe, there is a rank of arch angels, or chief angels. So we are to imagine Satan as the highest over all the ranks of fallen angels. Suppose that, for instance, one of the provinces or colonies of Great Britain should rebel and cut loose from the parent government; it might carry into its rebellion all its officers, from its governor-general down to the mayors of its cities, and even its police magistrates; and apparently when this great rebellion took place among the angels of God they carried over into their revolt the ranks they had before rebellion came among them, so that Satan is a chief demon, an evil spirit, a fallen angel of tremendous power. Then, again, Satan has marvellous wisdom and knowledge. He knows how to reach the human soul; he knows how to deceive you and mislead you. When the Duke of Richmond presented his report about “fortifications,” Sheridan said, “I compliment the noble president on his talents as an engineer, which were strongly evinced in planning and constructing that paper He has made it a contest of posts, and conducted his reasoning not less on principles of trigonometry than of logic. There are certain assumptions thrown up like advanced works to keep the enemy at a distance from the principal object of debate; strong provisos protect and cover the flanks of his assertions, and his very queries are his casemates.” And Satan is a civil engineer. He constructs his fortifications to make the evil strong and repel the good. And so, as he is a demon of marvellous power and wisdom, is he also formidable in his familiarity with evil, and it is this that constitutes the great hold of Satan over the human soul. Remember that he has in himself the very secrets of hell.
II. Yet notwithstanding this, we are bidden to remember that “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.” Conceding the greatness of Satan, let us look for a moment at the superior greatness of Jesus Christ. In the first place, Jesus Christ has all power. Satan has great power, but not omnipotence. Christ is not only a God of all power, but He is a God of all wisdom. Satan is very wise, but he is not omniscient, and Christ is. Then Jesus Christ is everywhere present. He is in your heart, and in my heart, and the heart of every disciple, by the Holy Spirit, so that of a true child of God we may still say, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world,” since He is the all-powerful, the all-wise, and the all-present God. And, then, remember that Jesus Christ represents perfect holiness, and holiness, like the light of the sun, positively dispels the darkness, that is to say infinite holiness repels evil and drives evil to the wall; and in the great ages to come, when Christ shall be crowned as King, we shall find darkness absolutely dispersed and light pervading the moral universe.
II. What is the secret of our possession and exercise of this overcoming power? We are told in this epistle that there are three secrets of overcoming power (1 John 2:14; 1 John 3:8-9; 1 John 3:24). The first secret is, the Word of God abides in you. The second is the seed of God abides in you; and the third is God Himself abides in you. Now look successively at these three secrets. The Word of God is represented in the Scriptures as the “sword of the Spirit,” “a two-edged sword.” A Damascus scimitar has but one sharp edge and a dull back. Hence you can hew with a scimitar, but you cannot thrust with it successfully. But when you have two edges to a sword, and each side is keen, you can cut both ways with such a blade; and the two keen edges unite in one burning point, and you can thrust with such a sword. And so the Word of God is represented as having two keen edges and one burning piercing point. Again, it is represented as a living sword. The Word of God is quick, i.e., alive and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. Knowing the Word, and having it in your heart, you shall find that Word going forth like a two-edged sword out of your mouth, a living sword, and a powerful sword, that hews men to pieces before God, and lays bare their thoughts and intents. Secondly, the seed of God abides in the child of God. The seed represents the living principle. I suppose you are all familiar with certain great facts of nature. You know how, for instance, in the vegetable world the seed is the most carefully preserved and guarded of all the products of plant life. Here is a little plant growing up and putting out its branches and leaves, and by and by its flowers. The flowers may be very beautiful and very fragrant, and you may value them and consider them the finest products of the plant, but, if I may use such language, the plant does not so regard them. The thing the plant cares most for in the economy of nature is not root nor stem, is not beauty nor blossom, nor even fruit, but seed. Now the teed in the plant and the seed in the animal represents not only the highest products of life, but the means of producing and propagating life, and therefore the seed is the most precious thing in nature. And how significant it is that the principle of life in God which represents the highest perfection of Deity and represents the means by which God’s likeness is reproduced in you and in me is called by the sacred name of “seed,” and we are told that when the seed of God remains in us we feel that we cannot sin. We have a new affinity. We are like a tree planted by the rivers of water with its little spongelets at the end of the roots drinking up the blessed water of life, and making sap of it. That is what John means when he says the seed of God is in the disciple, and he feels that he cannot sin because the seed of God leads him to love the things of God, and hate the things of the evil one. But we are told once more that God Himself abides in us (John 14:23). God would have you to feel this great fact, that if Jesus Christ dwells in you by the Holy Spirit, He makes you strong to overcome Satan, as He Himself was strong to overcome Satan in the desert and in the Garden of Gethsemane, and that is the secret of your triumph over evil. We are told that when Hercules was a little baby in his cradle, there were some serpents that came into the room and wound their way into the cradle and tried to sting him, and folding their coils round him to choke the life out of him. But we are told in the fable that with his little hands he just took hold of the necks of these serpents and strangled them to death. God would have you to feel that a little babe in Christ that is rocked in the cradle of the Church, when he comes into contact of She the great serpent, the devil, if Jesus is in him, can beat back the serpent, the serpent cannot strangle him. But remember this, that you are only strong when you are on the Lord’s ground, not on the devil’s ground. Nosy I have read a story about a swan that was walking on the shore of a lake, and a wolf came up and ran after the swan, and would have torn him to pieces. But the swan said to himself, “I am not strong on the land, but I am strong on the water.” So he plunged into the water, and when the wolf followed him into the water, he with his strong bill just gripped the wolf by the ears, and pulled his head down under the water, and drowned him. There are a great many people who try to fight the devil on the devil’s ground, and they always get defeated; but if you can meet the devil on the Lord’s ground you will defeat him. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The Christian’s conquest over sin
Wherein consists the superiority of the power of good over the power of evil in us?
1. The power of God is much nearer to us, and, by its relation to our true nature, so much more capable of becoming ours than the power of evil or the devil. We are the children of God. Can the renewed child of God say that any evil power lies nearer to his heart and more appropriately belongs to him, than that influence of a Father’s love which he acknowledges to be the holiest and most blessed thing in the universe?
2. The greater power of good over us may be seen by comparing those parts or elements of our nature to which good and evil influences respectively appeal. On the one hand, we have the appeal of God, of good, and of truth, to our reason, judgment, and conscience, to the deepest instincts and most fixed principles of the soul, and to love, in itself the strongest element in our nature. On the other hand, the appeal of evil is only to prejudice, fancy, and appearance, to passion and to selfishness.
3. The objects through which good principle influences us are vastly greater than those with which evil is associated. Even in reference to the present visible world, we may see this contrast. Evil, which is necessarily selfish, limits the objects of our thought and life to our own mean, narrow selves. It knows no large and noble objects or ends. Good embraces all things, all beings, all great and lofty ends. Good objects and aims kindle the heart to an enthusiasm before which difficulties vanish; evil purposes sink the heart into meanness and weakness. But when we turn to the invisible and eternal world, how much more striking is the contrast. God Himself is the centre and fountain of all sublime thoughts, of all mighty emotions, and of all boundless hopes. The summit of greatness is before us in Christian perfection. All this greatness we as Christians can claim as our possession; and can all this dwell in and fill the soul, and yet awaken no sense of greatness and power? But what has evil to compare with this? Where are its sublime heights, grand conceptions, boundless prospects? What immortality invests it with unfading splendour, what solid reason guarantees its infinity of bliss? Can we, then, say that the ignoble and mean has the same power over us as the sublime and glorious? (S. Edger, BA.)
The two spirits
I. There are two mighty spirits at work amongst mankind. There is some correspondence between their operation.
1. Both act uncoercively. There is no invasion of the principles of responsibility in either case.
2. Both act universally. The one is the prince of the power of the air; the other is in all our hearts.
3. Both act perseveringly.
4. Both act productively. Both “produce fruits in their subjects” (Galatians 5:19-23).
5. Both act resistibly. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” “Ye do always resist the Spirit of God.”
II. That whilst these spirits are both universal in their influence, the special sphere of the one is the “world,” and the other, the “Church.”
1. The Church cherishes the Spirit, and resists the devil.
2. The world cherishes the devil, and resists the Spirit.
III. That the spirit whose special sphere is the Church is infinitely greater than the spirit whose special sphere is the world. “Greater is He that is in you,” etc.
1. The one that is in the Church is absolutely independent; the one that works in the world is not so. The Holy Spirit can do whatsoever He please; Satan cannot move without His permission.
2. The one that is in the Church sways His influence by absolute right, the other by usurpation.
3. The one that is in the Church works to save, the other to destroy.
4. The one that is in the Church acts through truth, the other through error. The first stone of Satan’s empire--the foundation stone--was a lie.
But the Spirit works by truth--regenerates, sanctifies, comforts, by truth. Which is the greater, truth or error? Truth is eternal, error is not; truth is a necessity, error is a contingency; truth is mighty, error is weak. A lie has no power, only as it wears the garb of truth. Conclusion:
1. The human soul is an object of stupendous interest. These two spirits are working for it.
2. The philosophy of human commotions is explained. Two opposite spirits are working in the heart of the world.
3. The ultimate triumph of goodness is certain. “Greater.” (Homilist.)
They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world--
The worldly speak of the world
The water riseth not (unless forced) above the fountain. Out of the warehouse the shop is furnished. (J. Trapp.)
Speech is a child of thought,
which the mind always travaileth and teemeth with, and which after its birth is wont in features to resemble its parent. (I. Barrow.)
1 John 4:6
Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error
The time spirit and the Holy Spirit
The time spirit. What the Germans call the Zeit Geist; the spirit of the world, and of the age in which we live. What is that spirit? It is the world about us, this age of ours, speaking inarticulately to the soul of man. The world lies all around, a varied, splendid scene; vast, rich, fair, full of wealth and beauty. Till it can express itself, it is like a very lovely body without a soul. But it makes to itself a voice in the time spirit, and so talks to our hearts. Its mediums are manifold and diverse; among them are art and literature; the voices vary greatly, according to race, age, and clime. This is an age of marvels. Here are scholars studying and speculating; inventors planning and contriving; politicians doing their best as architects of their own fortunes. Here be poets, and painters, mechanics and artisans; here are grand cities, growing grander year after year; here we have luxury, comfort, delights of all sorts, music, world’s shows, balls, dances, entertainments, with titles, dress, gala, and glory to the full. What is all this? A mere chaos of activities till the Zeit Geist speaks. To this it gives, what is needed, expression and interpretation; as the musician would say, it interprets the world’s psalm of the world life.
II. Is there then no other voice? Surely something is lacking here. There is such other voice: the voice of another spirit, greater than the time spirit. We name Him in the Creed when we say, “and I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life.” This is the Spirit which speaks against the spirit of the age; which strengthens, purifies, and elevates, as the other weakens, corrupts, and depresses; whose utterances are wisdom and truth.
III. Such are the two spirits, which, on either side, perpetually address the soul of man. How shall we know them apart? Or rather what constitutes their difference? If is marked and strong. The time spirit preaches boastfully of man, of the world, of life; the Holy Spirit of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. The spirit of the age applauds and flatters us; the Holy Spirit rebukes, reproves, convicts. The time spirit talks to us of the glory and greatness of man, of temporal things as all-sufficient, of the world as the measure of our destinies, of a free and reckless life without responsibility, faith, or fear. The Holy Spirit on the contrary, speaks of the sin of man, his weakness and corruption; of a righteousness which consists in faith, obedience, and self-denial, of a battle against the world, of a coming judgment on the earth and its guilty tenants. And this is the essential difference between the voices; the one bids to indulgence, the other to discipline; the one addresses the physical, the other the moral nature; the one displays the kingdoms of this world and all the glory of them, the other points to that straight and narrow gate through which we enter into the kingdom of heaven. There are strange fables and legends of the old time and of the new; stories of syrens, who, singing in their rock-bound coasts, drew hapless mariners to wreck and death before their cruel eyes; stories of melodies so sweet and strange, that men, if once they listened, straightway forgot home, and kindred, and all that ever they knew, and cared for nothing but to listen to that song forever. And we must choose what we will do; whether we will hearken to the syrens, and forget thenceforth all that ever we were taught of God and Christ, of sin and its dire penances temporal and eternal, of righteousness and its crown. Such is our choice; and it presses on us for a decision, since the time is short, and the fashion of this world passeth away. (M. Dix, D. D.)
1 John 4:7-10
Beloved, let us love one another
A triune philosophy
The philosophy of the new birth. “Everyone that loveth is born of God.” To begin to love deeply, truely, purely--that is to be born again, for he that loveth is born of God.
II. The philosophy of the true knowledge of God. “Everyone that loveth, knoweth God.” Not in creeds but through love shall come true knowledge of God.
III. The philosophy of the atonement. “Herein is love,” etc. (B. J. Snell, M. A.)
Love is of God--God is love
I. “Love is of God.” This does not mean merely that love comes from God, and has its source in God; that He is the author or creator of it. All created things are of God, for by Him all things were made, and on Him they all depend. But love is not a created thing. It is a Divine property, a Divine affection. And it is of its essence to be communicative and begetting; to communicate itself, and, as it were, beget its own likeness. “Love is of God.” It is not merely of God, as every good gift is of God. It is of God, as being His own property, His own affection, His own love. It is, wherever it is found, the very love wherewith God loveth. If it is found in me, it is my loving with the very love with which God loves; it is my loving with a Divine love, a love that is thus emphatically of God. “Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”
1. None but one born of God can thus love with the love which, in this sense, is of God; therefore, one who so loves must needs be one who is born of God.
2. Being born of God implies knowing God. How it is the manner of God to love; what sort of love His is; love going out of self; love sacrificing self; love imparting and communicating self; love unsought and unbought; unconditional and unreserved; what kind of being, in respect of love, God is; you who are born of God know, even as the only begotten Son knows.
II. The opposite statement follows as a matter of course--“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” To love with the love which is of God, is to know God; not to love thus, is not to know God; for God is love. In this view, the proposition, “God is love,” really applies to both of the alternative ways of putting the case; the positive and the negative alike. It assigns the reason why it may be said on the one hand, “Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God”; and why it may also be said on the other hand,” He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” “God is love.” It is a necessity of His nature, it is His very nature to love. He cannot exist without loving. “God is love” before all creation; love in exercise; love not possible merely but actual; love forthgoing and communicative of itself; from the Father, the fountain of deity, to the Son; from the Father and the Son to the Holy Ghost. In creation, this love is seen forthgoing and communicative in a new way towards new objects. Sin enters, and death by sin; all sin, and all are doomed. Still “God is love”; the same love as ever. And “in this now is manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent,” etc. This is its crowning glory; the saving mission from God of His only begotten Son. It is consummated in our “living through Him,” through His “being the propitiation for our sins.” For now, effectual atonement being made for our guilt, our redemption and reconciliation being righteously and, therefore, surely effected by His being the propitiation for our sins; we, living through Him, are His brethren indeed. The love wherewith God loves Him dwells in us. God loves us even as He loves Him. And so at last the love which, from all eternity, it is of the very nature of God’s essential being to feel and exercise, finds its full fruition in the “mighty multitude of all kindreds, and peoples, and nations, and tongues, who stand before the throne and give glory to Him who sitteth thereon, and to the Lamb forever and ever.” (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
God’s existence and love
There must of necessity be in some quarters today a denial that brotherly love rests upon love to God, because there is not a little denial of the being of God altogether. It is not merely the proposition “God is love” which is contested, but the previous and simpler proposition “God is.” I do not, of course, mean that this is quite a new thing; anyhow it is as old as the fourteenth Psalm; but certain occurrences, political and social, and the attitude assumed by some of our scientific men, and the tone of much of our current literature, have tended to give a prominence and practical importance to the denial that “God is,” which it had not half a century ago. But there is another tendency of our times which ought to be noted, and it is the tendency to deny that “God is love.” The first part of the proposition, we are sometimes told, may be accepted if you think it worth asserting: if you like to explain the order of the physical universe by the hypothesis of what you, call God, there is no harm in it, any more than making the hypothesis of an elastic medium pervading space, or of an electric fluid, or anything else which is hypothetical: but the moment you attribute purpose, and will, and love, and the exercise of moral government to this hypothetical God, then you are told that you fly in the face of modern observation and discovery. You are told, in fact, that the God whom science has revealed is an unbending, invariable, relentless, pitiless law, as different from love as the strokes of a steam engine are from the throbbings of a mother’s heart. Now I have no desire to under rate or misrepresent scientific discovery; I do not deny, moreover, that there is much that happens in the world which it is difficult to reconcile with the conception of the overruling providence of a loving Father; anyone who chooses to hold a brief for those who deny that “God is love” will have no difficulty in finding arguments. But I believe the truth that “God is love” to be too genuine to be overthrown by any one of them: I believe it to rest upon grounds deeper, more philosophical, and more scientific, than any of the denials or objections which can be opposed to it. I believe that there is something in the human heart, in the universal nature of man, to which it appeals and to which it cannot appeal in vain. In the New Testament the proposition “God is love” is not an abstract theorem to be proved by the help of axioms and postulates, but it is the condensation in three words of the life of Jesus Christ, our Lord. When I see that weary, wandering Son of man “going about doing good,” when I see Him feeding the hungry, healing the sick, when I listen to Him preaching the gospel to the poor, and still more when I see Him nailed to the cross of shame, then I bow my head in humble adoration, and I say, “In very deed and truth, God is love.” This demonstration of the love of God has changed the face of the world: many of its most crying evils have ceased; a bright principle of light and love, which was all but unknown in previous ages, has shined upon the earth; men have gone about doing good, so as they never did before: hospitals are common things: we have seen so great a light in Jesus Christ that no other light is able to dazzle us. In the warmth and brightness of this Sun of our souls, we know and are persuaded that directly or indirectly all love comes from Him. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
The lessons of love
If I mistake not, our first instinct is to suppose that to know God must be some result of hard thinking, something to be got by books, or something which is granted to intellectual power. Whatever truth there may be in this, there is no allusion to it all through Scripture which does not lead us to connect the thought of knowing God with the study, or the library, or the laboratory. It carries us into another region; it speaks of a knowledge which is open to the poor, the uneducated, the young. It speaks of a state of mind rather than of a degree of attainment; something which leads you to say and to feel as you see it in others, not “how wonderful!” but “how beautiful!”--not “how did he amass all those stores of learning?” but, “how did he become so noble and so like Christ?” He that loveth not, knoweth not God. Is that a hard saying to any of us? What, we ask, the mightiest intellect of modem times, rich with the spoils of time, does not that intellect know God? No, is the Divine answer, not if the man be selfish. It is one thing to know about God, to know what has been said of Him and written and thought of Him, and what science has revealed to us as to the modes of the operations of His hands. This is one thing; but to know God is another. To know God in any true sense is to be unselfish, to be loving, to have towards others the heart of a brother. He who gave us the intellect wishes us to use the intellect according to our age, our strength, our opportunities. Still all this knowledge is at the best knowledge about God not knowledge of God. Let us dare to look on yet further, and lift the wings of the soul. Are we speaking only of that which is, or of that also which shall be hereafter? Of what kind do you suppose will be that higher knowledge? Will it differ in kind from that which was learned often so painfully on earth? Will there be one measurement for the “pure in heart” who on earth have “seen God,” and another for those who wake up after His likeness and see His face in heaven? Will the higher knowledge be more of the illumined intellect, and less of the adoring heart? If so, it would not be a higher knowledge in the spiritual order; it would be a lower, with more of earth in it and less of heaven. Everyone that loveth will still know God, and he that loveth not will still not know God. Or, if we pass beyond the region of glowing words, and think calmly of what we have seen and felt in our short passage through life, what report have we to bring on this high matter? When have we seemed to ourselves to be least ignorant of our God, or, may I dare say, understand Him best? Has it been when we were trying to spell out some hard passages in the Bible, or the Creed, or when we caught the echo of some far off thunder of controversy; or has it not rather been when our hearts were touched by something “lovely” or “of good report”; when we mourned unselfishly some common loss; when something so moved us at the very centre of our being that all distinctions of age, of ability, of position were merged and lost in one full tide of brotherly affection, and we seemed for a time almost surprised at the nearness and clearness of heaven? There are times, for example, in early childhood, when we have committed some fault. Conscience acts with sternness, and makes her terrors known, but soon love casts out fear; we cannot bear to have done wrong to a mother, or a sister; confession is a necessity; we must have human forgiveness, because, though as yet we know it not, it is to us the image and the representative of the Divine. Then in that weakness and majesty of childish love which resists sin and insists on pardon, we have the knowledge of God. Young as we are, we look on life with the eyes of love and hope. We long to succour, to reform, to purify, to save. But these eyes of love and hope are in truth the eyes of God. Or once more, that which has touched us has been the closing scene of life. We have gathered round some good man’s grave. Who shall measure the teaching power of the great? What pulpit, what creed, what treatise on theology, can match for one moment with the open tomb in teaching the knowledge of God? And why? Because we then have ears to hear; because the heart is not closed, but open; because, if I may dare to say so, the spirit of Christian love is in the air. Our hearts recall the gifts and the graces of the Christian dead which made him the loved and honoured. Such lives, such characters, such memories are, indeed, teachers in the knowledge of God. Yes, if it be, indeed, the sober truth, if it be the real state of the case in the external world, that “everyone that loveth knoweth God,” then our best, perhaps our only teachers in this high knowledge are those who have loving, unselfish hearts, and draw us, whether by the loving voice of an inexorable silence, to think of Him who in the language of heaven is love. (H. M. Butler, D. D.)
The love of God
I. The title “beloved.” It comes most naturally from John. He was old, and yet the ardent affection of youth still animated his soul. It is a noble triumph of grace to see this spirit maintained and manifested to the last. John had seen and felt much to disappoint and distress him. How he must have been exercised when he wrote 3 John 1:9-10. All this, and much of the same kind, did not cool his warm heart. Its love still came gushing forth as it had done in the days of his Divine Master.
II. The duty of cherishing brotherly love implied in the exhortation, “Let us love one another.” While love is natural to the gracious soul, and cannot be suppressed, it is yet very susceptible of culture, and may be much strengthened by the exercise of the duty. Love may be increased by contemplating its object. In the present case that object is the believer. Suppose, then, that we consider him thoughtfully, what will be the effect? We think of his position and what is peculiar to it. His advantages and temptations, and duties and responsibilities present themselves to us. As we think of these we cannot help sympathising with him, and praying for him, and helping him as we have the opportunity. Again, as we are in the presence of a loved object, so is our affection increased. Hence arises the duty of cultivating the society of the godly. Acquaintance will secure many common advantages, and prevent many evils. How often have we cherished a prejudice against some one until it was dissipated by one friendly interview! We may add, the more we serve the object we love, the greater will be our attachment to it. It is not merely that habit confirms and increases the grace; but while this is true, every act of kindness we render draws out the heart in greater kindliness.
III. Many cogent reasons are assigned by the apostle for the exercise of this duty, which we proceed to consider.
1. “Love is of God.” It has its origin in Him. The more we possess it, the more we resemble Him. To have loved, therefore, is to be Godlike.
2. “Everyone that loveth is born of God.” Such love as He cherishes is not natural to man. It is contrary to the spirit and habit of a sinner. It exists only in the renewed heart. It is inspired by the Holy Ghost. In all its exercises, its gracious nature and source are conspicuous. It is directed mainly to the people of God.
3. “Everyone that loveth knoweth God.”
4. “He that loveth not knoweth not God.” This is said in the way of warning and confirmation. Let no man deceive himself. If there be not love there cannot be the knowledge of God.
5. But the weightiest reason of all yet remains, “God is love.” The essence of God is love. Power is a perfection. Wisdom is a perfection. Truth is a perfection. But it would not be sufficient to say love is a perfection. It lies as the substratum of the Divine character beneath all the perfections of God. It stimulates and employs them all. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
Nothing can be more explicit. The whole nature of religion, as it is interpreted to us in Christianity, is comprised in that one word--love. The Divine nature is love; and piety in us is to be love. When a great structure is arising, there are multitudes of labourers; there are artisans in wood, in stone, in clay, in iron and metals; and each in his own department is in lawful authority. But higher than all of them is the artist and architect. His controlling authority brings all these various workers together, limits and directs their tasks, gives to their cooperative skill a central unity toward which they all are unconsciously tending. Does he, then, abate or limit the power of the heads of departments underneath him? Is not his influence necessary to their greatest development and the highest triumphs of their several skills? So in that temple of the human soul, which each one of us is building by the industries of many noble and potent faculties, Love is the architect, and gives the lines for a foundation, and forms the proportions, and teaches all these diverse faculties, not how to work in their kind and nature, but how, working in their kind and nature, to subserve higher purposes by a Divine unity, and purity, and moral excellence. Love unites their agencies.
I. Let us employ this truth as a criterion of human character. The law of God is the only thing by which we can measure a character. That law, set forth for man’s obedience, is Thou shalt love the Lord thy God supremely, and thy fellow man as thyself. Now let us apply this test. Does any man live that does not violate this command of God, “Thou shalt love”? Let us look inward for one single moment. Did you ever know a man who could say, I have never, from the hour of conscious intelligence, carried my intellect so that in its operations I have violated the law of love? Let a man summon to the bar of his own conscience, pride. What a man would be physically without a backbone, that he would be mentally without the element of pride. And yet, has this element been so controlled in any man that it can rise up and say, “I have never disregarded, either negatively or positively, the supreme law of love”? Summon that most lithe and nimble feeling--the love of praise--and what man can say, “I have so carried my vanity, my approbativeness, that it has always been in subordination to the law of love”? Can any man say, “My imagination has so acted as never to infract the law of love”? Or, can any man say, “My moral sentiments have so acted as never to overstep the law of love”? What, then, shall we say of the lower feelings? What of the business, executive powers? What of the passions and appetites? Go through the soul, and look at every one of the faculties, and is there one that has not violated this law? I go still further. The action of each element in the soul has been such that its obedience to the law of love has been occasional, has been rare. There are spots where almost everybody, first or last, has felt some glow and warming of love; but to the greatest number of men that ever dwelt on earth, love has been just what Northern days are, when the sun stands above the horizon only one short hour, is sunk below it for the other twenty-three, and is growing worse and worse toward the six-months night. Is not the whole of our outer life, is not our daily conduct, are not our ambitions, are not our secular ends, is not our treatment of men, organised and solidly constructed upon a selfish motive? Thus the inward life and the outward conduct of men both come to one and the same testimony. They are both of them built up not only outside of God’s law, but right over against it, and in antagonism with it. These being the facts: God’s command of love being neglected, and your character and whole history turning on the infraction of it, ought I not to lay this terrible truth before you, and roll it again and again upon you? In my own case, the belief of this doctrine, instead of being an injury, has been a benefit. My charity for men has been augmented in the proportion in which my opinion of their goodness has been lowered. When I deal with men on the supposition that they are good, I am roused with impatience at the manifestations of their wickedness; and when I deal with them on the supposition that they are altogether sinful, I expect nothing from them, and I find myself prepared beforehand to treat them with charity and forbearance.
II. This truth affords, also, a criterion of conversion. There are such loose notions of what religion is, that we cannot too urgently hold attention to the fact that in Christ’s kingdom love is a characteristic element of piety; and that when a man is converted genuinely, he must be converted to the spirit of love. There may be other things with this spirit, but it is this that makes piety in Christ’s kingdom. Let us make some discriminations. A man may come to a certain state of great and sudden joy, and of relish for religious exercises, and yet not be a Christian. Religious inspirations and great fertility of feeling, of fancy, fervour of emotion, and elegant utterance, are not evidences, in themselves, of piety. They are blessed concomitants of it often; but they may exist separately from and independently of piety. Your piety is to be tested by its consistency with God’s law of love. The power of right ideas, the clearness with which you take hold of them, the aptness with which you are able to state them, your zeal for them--all these, while they are desirable in piety, are not characteristic of it; and a man may have them and not be a Christian. God’s orthodoxy is of the heart always. That will make the head correct. A man, also, may have great faith and not be a Christian. I go further, and say that a man may be a very generous, good fellow, a very agreeable, companionable man, and yet not be a Christian. A man, likewise, may have an unflinching zeal in religion, and constancy in its service, even to martyrdom, and yet not be a Christian. How many there are that are wardens and doorkeepers of God’s house, who have no love, no benevolence, no conscience, no fidelity. Zeal they may have, but summer in the soul they have not. I go still further, and say that religiousness is not piety. Far be it from me to say a word to discourage reverence, devoutness, awe, in the presence of God. But that alone, that without love, is not enough. With love, it makes piety broader and deeper, and life more massive and noble; but unless there be, first, intermediate, and last, the spirit and the law of love, there is no piety. When a man is converted, therefore, it is very important that he should be converted to the right thing. No man is a Christian till he is converted to the law of love. Since you made a profession of religion, are you kinder in the various relations of life? Is your life more full of the fruits of love? Have you a more comprehensive benevolence toward all mankind? Every year do you less and less accept the service of loving men as a task, and do you more and more accept it with cheerfulness? Do you find that the currents of your thought and feeling are setting outward instead of inward? Are you more full of the sweetness of true Christian’s love? In this direction you must measure to know whether you are growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (H. W. Beecher.)
If a writer upon the vegetable kingdom should say, “The tree is of God,” he would not be supposed to state any such commonplace fact that all the trees of the orchard and grove are His handiwork, but would be thought to mean some special genus or species of tree, so far exalted in form, uses, or beauty above other trees as to entitle it to this great distinction. It is the tree by eminence--the tree of God. So when John says “love is of God,” he indicates a special kind of love--a peculiar form or expression of love, so different from every other, so far above and beyond every other as to merit the distinction that it is from God.
I. Such is Christian love, and that we may understand and appreciate it, we must contrast it with other forms and degrees of that affection of the soul which we call love.
1. It is not the love of the parent for the child, nor of the child for the parent. This is, doubtless, God emplanted.
2. Christian love is not the love of friend for friend, nor what is called sexual love. This often springs from the most trivial causes--caprices of fancy.
3. It is not the love of complacency, which in its first and highest sense belongs to God, or His love for all men, which bears with sin, defiance, rebellion, and suspends penalty.
4. It is not to be confounded with even the finest intellectual apprehensions of the perfect and glorious attributes of God.
5. Nor is it identical with profound admiration for the work of God, with that easy and prevalent sentimentalism which is the creature of sublimity, magnitude, and natural beauty.
II. Let us reach it by degrees--positively--
1. With respect to God as its object, it is an affection largely independent of extensive and accurate knowledge. A man may be a sage or philosopher, and know it not. The savage or boor may know its meaning, feel its power.
2. It flows out toward man in the proportion that he is like God.
3. It is elective--knows by a singular instinct the true and the false.
4. It is unselfish and disinterested.
5. Christian love is charitable.
6. It is operative and practical.
7. It is progressive. (J. C. French.)
Love of relations and friends
There have been men who have supposed Christian love was so diffusive as not to admit of concentration upon individuals, so that we ought to love all men equally. And many, without bringing forward any theory, yet consider practically that the love of many is something superior to the love of one or two, and neglect the charities of private life, while busy in the schemes of an expansive benevolence, or of effecting a general union and conciliation among Christians. I shall here maintain, in opposition to such notions, that the best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us. It has been the plan of Divine Providence to ground what is good and true in religion and morals on the basis of our good natural feelings. What we are towards our earthly friends in the instincts and wishes of our infancy, such we are to become at length towards God and man in the extended field of our duties as accountable beings. To honour our parents is the first step towards honoring God; to love our brethren according to the flesh, the first step towards considering all men our brethren. The love of God is not the same thing as the love of our parents, though parallel to it; but the love of mankind in general should be in the main the same habit as the love of our friends, only exercised towards different objects. The great difficulty in our religious duties is their extent. This frightens and perplexes men, naturally; those especially who have neglected religion for a while, and on whom its obligations disclose themselves all at once. This, for example, is the great misery of leaving repentance till a man is in weakness or sickness; he does not know how to set about it. Now God’s merciful providence has in the natural course of things narrowed for us at first this large field of duty; He has given us a clue. We are to begin with loving our friends about us, and gradually to enlarge the circle of our affections, till it reaches all Christians, and then all men. By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth. Further, that love of friends and relations, which nature prescribes, is also of use to the Christian, in giving form and direction to his love of mankind at large, and making it intelligent and discriminating. A man who would fain begin by a general love of all men, necessarily puts them all on a level, and, instead of being cautious, prudent, and sympathising in his benevolence, is hasty and rude, does harm perhaps when he means to do good, discourages the virtuous and well-meaning, and wounds the feelings of the gentle. Men of ambitious and ardent minds, for example, desirous of doing good on a large scale, are especially exposed to the temptation of sacrificing individual to general good in their plans of charity. We can easily afford to be liberal on a large scale, when we have no affections to stand in the way. Those who have not accustomed themselves to love their neighbours whom they have seen, will have nothing to lose or gain, nothing to grieve at or rejoice in, in their larger plans of benevolence. They will take no interest in them for their own sake; rather, they will engage in them because expedience demands, or credit is gained, or an excuse found for being busy. Hence too we discern how it is that private virtue is the only sure foundation of public virtue; and that no national good is to be expected (though it may now and then accrue) from men who have not the fear of God before their eyes. I have hitherto considered the cultivation of domestic affections as the source of more extended Christian love. Did time permit, I might now go on to show besides that they involve a real and difficult exercise of it. Nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits (which is the direct opposite and negation of charity) than independence in our worldly circumstances. And this is one among the many providential benefits (to those who will receive them) arising out of the holy estate of matrimony, which not only calls out the tenderest and gentlest feelings of our nature, but, where persons do their duty, must be in various ways more or less a state of self-denial. Or, again, I might go on to consider the private charities, which have been my subject, not only as the sources and as the discipline of Christian love, but further, as the perfection of it; which they are in some cases. The Ancients thought so much of friendship that they made it a virtue. In a Christian view, it is not quite this; but it is often accidentally a special test of our virtue. For consider--let us say that this man, and that, not bound by any very necessary tie, find their greatest pleasure in living together; say that this continues for years, and that they love each other’s society the more the longer they enjoy it. Now observe what is implied in this. Young people, indeed, readily love each other, for they are cheerful and innocent, more easily yield to each other, and are full of hope--types, as Christ says, of His true converts. But this happiness does not last; their tastes change. Again, grown persons go on for years as friends; but these do not live together; and, if any accident throws them into familiarity for a while, they find it difficult to restrain their tempers and keep on terms, and discover that they are best friends at a distance. But what is it that can bind two friends together in intimate converse for a course of years but the participation in something that is unchangeable and essentially good, and what is this but religion? (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
A famous writer has said that “religion is morality touched with emotion.” That is a very inadequate and unsatisfactory definition of Christianity; the only word that can adequately define the religion of Christ is love.
I. A very tender appeal: “Beloved.”
1. The cold, stoical nature is a power, but it is a power that repels from it, it never draws, it has not the least attractive force in it. If we would win men and persuade them to act as brethren, let us use tenderness. We need not use it to the exclusion of the light, purity, and truth of religion.
2. The sweet reasonableness of the appeal would have great force with those to whom the apostle wrote. Did they not owe everything in a religious sense to love, for had they not been told over and over again that “God so loved the world?” etc. The hardest and most solid ice will yield to the genial influences of the sun, and the most hardened and stubborn hearts will yield to the gracious power or love when every other force will fail to influence them.
3. It was a consistent appeal. John’s tender words came from a large and loving heart; it was because his heart felt that his lips spake the soft and gentle word.
II. An argument. “For love is of God.” Fire is found in many objects very dissimilar one from the other. It is found in coal in considerable quantity, it abounds in wood, it is contained in iron, and it is locked up in the flint; and it appears that there is some little measure of it in water even. It would seem that the sun cannot touch any object without imparting to some degree its own nature to that object; for, as you are aware, the sun is the inexhaustible source of fire wherever it is found, whether in the coal, or flint, or water. And wherever we meet with love, whether in the husband to the wife, or the wife to the husband, the brother to the sister, or the sister to the brother, the friend to the friend, or in one Christian to another; wherever we meet with it, God is the source of it, “for God is love.” In this argument John appeals to one of the most powerful instincts in man--the desire to be like the great. To imitate the great is a universal passion in men. To paint like the great masters is the one all-consuming passion of artists. If we carefully considered the thought in our calmer moments that to love is to be like God, the very sublimity of the idea would be enough to inspire us to “love one another,” even if every other motive failed. Where there is brotherly love, there is sure to be generous help if it be needed.
III. Two important signs of love.
1. Divine sonship--“And everyone that loveth is begotten of God.” These are very encouraging words. Almost all Christian people are sorely tried with dark and crushing doubts at one time or other in their history. In such moments of spiritual experience one of the most effectual ways of removing the wretched doubt is to ask ourselves the question, “Do I love God and my brethren?” If the answer be “Yes,” then we may console ourselves that we possess one of the most unmistakable signs of sonship.
2. A power to recognise God. “And everyone that loveth … knoweth God.” The great intellect may recognise Him in His works and dealings with men, but much, if not everything, in regard to our knowledge of God depends upon the state of the heart. It is not of a mere superficial acquaintance with God that the apostle is speaking, such as we obtain of an object or a person by just seeing him a few times; he is speaking of that knowledge which is the grand result of apprehending God as the Father of our spirits and the Author of salvation--it is the knowledge that ripens into a firm faith and a calm trust in God as our unfailing Friend, who is reconciling the world to Himself in Jesus Christ. (D. Rhys Jenkins.)
The voice of God through human love
The true love, of which I would speak, may be thus defined--desire for the well-being of another. Whenever a person acts in the sole interest of another, and on his behalf alone, he is showing his love for him.
1. That love is an instinct or property of human nature needs little or no illustration.
2. There is a word to say also about the difference between love and the conscience. There is no conflict of claims here. Love and conscience both alike demand that we shall do our duty. But love will often discern what that duty is before the reason has a chance to be heard or the conscience has uttered its call. Love leaps up to enjoy doing what the colder and more sluggish conscience only says we ought to do.
3. That we depend largely on knowledge for a right indulgence of our love. Just as conscience requires us to do our best and to take pains to discover what is right, so true love demands still more anxiety. A mother bending over the sick bed of her son is racked with feverish anxiety to know what will do him good. With no less anxiety does a truly loving heart long to know and try to discover what is best to be done for the dear one’s benefit. Love is an active, not a passive principle. It is self-sacrifice, not self-will or the worship of crotchets. True love begins at home, and if she is allowed her due rights there, she will not be wanting when we go abroad, nor fail us in our dealings with strangers or with the lower creation.
4. Love is the parent of many virtues. In the first place, love begets justice. Not only justice of deed but justice of thought, of which we all stand even more in need. You cannot be just to anyone whom you dislike or hate, you cannot be just and true to anyone for whom your love is not pure and true. True love then adds to justice the quality of mercy, not sparing in the condemnation of the sin, but tender, merciful, and forgiving to the sinner. Then we find love the faithful parent of patience, forbearance, humility, and meekness, all elements of the highest humanity and sources of unspeakable blessing and peace. When we truly love, we show all these virtues in their lustre. But I pass over them to lay emphasis on the healing and purifying effects of love upon our own sinful hearts. Nothing but love can make us truly repent. Just as we all have some unkindness to repent of, so we all have something to forgive. And love alone can teach us how to forgive right nobly and generously. We know also how love is the parent of the commonest virtues, diligence in business, honesty, trustworthiness--all such virtues are a thousand times over begotten and preserved by the love we bear to those dependent on us. For them we toil and work and keep our hands clean from dishonesty. For them we strive to preserve our character and the confidence of the world. And love is the mother of truthfulness. We all know and feel that the most cruel act we can do is to deceive one who trusts us. Never can we deceive or cheat one whom we truly love. And lastly, love begets courage and heroism. Time would fail me to recount the long and glorious catalogue of those who have given their lives for others--aye, for the undeserving. (C. Voysey.)
For love is of God--
Love is of God
The point which I wish to illustrate is that all the love in the universe is the gift of God. This proposition involves consequences of the most responsible character. Let us first unfold the principle, and then ascertain some of its resulting consequences. When the apostle tells us that “God is love” he wishes to convey to us the idea that love is the great motive power of the Divine Being. Love is that which shapes and guides all His attributes, so that each is manifested under the working of love, and each directed to the securing of love. But when the apostle says “Love is of God” he looks at love from another standpoint. He marks it in its human manifestations; and beholding it not so much as a great and original attribute of the Most High, but as seen in daily life, ramifying through all the grades and conditions of society, he traces the affection to its source, and says, “Love is of God.”
1. Take the first love which one human being ever felt for another--conjugal love--and mark how that is of God. In making the woman out of the rib of man--in uniting them, by the act of God Himself, in holy wedlock; in inspiring prophets and apostles to urge men to love their wives as their own bodies; and in likening the union of husband and wife to the mystical union which exists between Christ and the Church--God has indicated, by the most direct and authoritative way, that He was the author and giver of conjugal affection.
2. Take the second love which grew up on earth--parental love--and see how this is of God. We say, in common parlance, that it is natural for a man to love his child. But what constitutes the naturalness of this love, other than the fact that God implanted it in parents’ hearts, as a part of their moral constitution?
3. Take the third kind of affection, which, in the order of time, rises in the human breast--the love of children for parents--and we shall find the same truth holds here also. What would a household be, devoid of children’s love? What would a parent’s heart be if its outgoings of affection found no response in prattling boys and gentle girls? And how much of the sunlight of home would become darkness if filial love were blotted out from mind and memory and heart? Filial love constitutes a large part of human happiness, and pervades every class and condition of our race, and as it could never, by its very nature, create itself, because it is begotten before reason and judgment begin their workings, it must be Divine.
4. The same line of remark applies also to that love of kindred which Constitutes a part of man’s moral being. He it is “who setteth the solitary in families,” who groups men into social circles, and, bestowing upon His creatures affections, calls out these affections in the various forms of social and domestic life.
5. Once more, look at love in the form of philanthropy. Here we behold it breaking over the dikes and channels of conjugal, family, or social affection, and spreading away like the Nile in its overflow, until it covers the entire lowlands of our race. This earth-encompassing and man-elevating love is of God. It is because the Bible tells us that we have one common Father, one common Saviour, one common Comforter, one common salvation, and one common earthly destiny. Now, what would earth be without these various kinds of love? What without philanthropy? It would be a mass of conglomerate selfishness, a world of war, of social discord, and of domestic misery. What would earth be without this love of kindred? The interlacing bonds of family with family would be sundered; society would be disintegrated, save only when force or interest made a union of what was else repulsive and undesired. What would the world be without filial or parental love? A family where there was parental authority without parental love, and where filial obedience was required without filial affection rendered, would not be a home but a prison. And above all, what would earth be without conjugal love--if there was no heart union between man and wife; no love to cheer, soften, and irradiate the lot of woman; no responsive affection to nerve and lift up and make happy the soul of man; if the marriage tie was only a bond of interest or of lust--a bond galling as the manacle of the convict? It would be as if some angel of the pit should pass through this world and turn its green fields into sand wastes, its forest-crowned and picturesque hills into bald rock, its floral kingdom into bramble land, its dancing, leaping, silvery waters into asphaltic streams, its exquisitely tinged clouds and its brilliant sunsets into Cimmerian gloom, its thousand bird melodies into discordant screams. Seeing, then, that with all man’s sins and ill-doings, with all God’s punishments and curses, He has continued to us this love, the question arises, Have you ever seriously thought how much you ought to love God, who has given you the inestimable boon of human affection? Can you sum up your debt to Him for this one gift? Yet, when man rebelled against God, and cast off His sway, and virtually said to Him, “We desire not a knowledge of Thy ways,” God might most justly have stripped him of love and left him to the curse of the loveless and the unloved. It was His love to us which caused Him to continue love in us, There is no love in hell. There is one other aspect of the subject which I must touch upon. Wondrous as is the fact that, notwithstanding our sins, God still continued to us human love, and highly exalting as that fact is of His grace and mercy, it is not so great a display of His love as that manifested in providing for man’s redemption. (Bp. Stevens.)
Everyone that loveth is born of God--
Love and religion
The phrase “begotten of God” is not a large, but it is a very great one. Whither can our genealogy be traced?
I. The Bible answers this immense question by the doctrine that God and man stand to each other in the relation of Father and child, This fact gives to human sin its crimson dye, and to human sorrow its peculiar pathos. Human sin is the sin of Absalom--of a son against his father. Here is a fall from heaven!
II. But the phrase “begotten of God” means much more than this. It answers the question, What is religion? “Religion is orthodox belief,” say some; a “cult,” say others; “morality fired with emotion,” say others. But the New Testament says that “Except a man be born again from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” So far as man is a son by nature only, he may grow up to be dissatisfied with his father’s mode of life, and with the law of his father’s house. He may also adopt a course of action so widely divergent from his father’s that the natural bond between them shall serve only to reveal the widening gulf of character that separates them. To become truly a son he must be born again--must of his own choice accept as his father the parent Providence gave him, and must by his own love and conduct make the house in which Providence placed him a home. To be then fully “born of God” is for the soul, being filled with the Holy Spirit, to accept the salvation that is in Christ by faith in His blood, to acknowledge God’s fatherly authority, accept God’s law, live His life, do His work; or, in one word, to love God--“he that loveth is born of God.”
III. Religion, then, is love. Love is not something elementary, something for little children and babes in Christ. Love is final, infinite. It is both Alpha and Omega in religion. “But what,” you ask, “of life and conduct?” Well, a holy life is the natural outcome of love to God. If a man love God, he will avoid all sin and do all the good he can. It is related of an eminent singer that his teacher kept him day after day, and even month after month, practising the scales, in spite of the pupil’s entreaties for something more advanced. At last the master told him to go forth as the best singer in Europe, having mastered the scales. Not otherwise did our Lord teach His first disciples. For three years He taught them “to love” by miracle and parable, by prayer and sermon. He grounded them in love. When seated with them at the last supper He said: “A new commandment I give unto you,” and behold it was the old one, “That ye love one another.” After His resurrection He met the disciples on the beach, and He took the repentant Peter and put him through the scales: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” Having learnt to love, their education was complete, their training ended. They could go everywhere and do all things. So, if we truly love God, and love all men in God, we are truly religious. (J. M. Gibbon.)
And knoweth God--
Love and knowledge
The desire for knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it. Knowledge is like fire: it must first be kindled from without; but once set burning, it propagates itself. Man’s power is in his mind, not his arm. By his knowledge he is the true king of nature, saying to one element” Go,” and it goeth; to another “Come,” and it dare not disobey.
I. Yes, heaven has secrets. The soul, by the necessity of its constitution, must look for God; and its prayer is, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Now the text meets this desire of the soul to know God by the emphatic declaration that everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. Love knows God, serves God, possesses God.
II. Well, everyone that loveth knoweth the men that have been, understandeth that which history saith of them. Love is very old. Love came in with Adam and Eve. Here is an old picture of love: “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” He that loveth knoweth. He that loveth knoweth the love that Jonathan had for David, and his own heart is his best commentary on the verse.
III. Move one step further: “He that loveth knoweth God.” Love is the clue to human love. Love is the clue to the love of God. Wouldst thou know God? Have love in thine heart, and when thine heart is full of love, look into it, and the image thou shalt see will be a likeness of the face of God. Wouldst thou know God’s feeling for thy sin? Look how sensitive a thing is love--how easily wounded! Wouldst thou know the joy of love? Then look at thine own joy at the recovery of a loved one, or the reclamation of an erring one. All faults are forgotten. And wouldst thou know something of the life beyond the veil, of the things that are to be? Go to your own home. See how, out of your love, you provide all things good for those you love most. See how love works, and watches, and prays--how tenderly it cares for the sick and the weak I Oh! what would not human love do had it the power? Well, God is love with wealth, love with knowledge, love with power. (J. M. Gibbon.)
Knowing God by love
To know is man’s highest ambition. Knowledge of God--what is it and how can we secure it?
I. I remark that knowledge is very various, and in every department must be secured by its own methods, in its own direction, by its own appliances, and for its own uses. If I wish to know an object that is near, I must use my eyes; an object that is remote, I call for a field glass or a telescope; an object that is minute, a microscope. If I would test the texture of an object, I touch it with my hands; the solidity, I strike it with a hammer. If I want to know the chemical or medicinal properties, I have my chemical tests, my medicinal tests. The most valuable knowledge is the knowledge of things with reference to their uses; with reference to what we can do with them by combining them with other things; with reference to how we can make them serve us. This is the dominion which God intended for man. If with reference to things immaterial, to things not seen and eternal, scientific men have sometimes said they are unknowable, it is because they have tried to test them by material appliances, with microscopes and telescopes and hammers, which cannot be done. Men have proposed a prayer gauge on the principle of the rain gauge.
II. Our knowledge of God may Be just as various as our knowledge of material things, for He has put Himself variously into material things; but, like all other scientific knowledge, it must always be recognised by its own appropriate tests. The knowledge can come only in its own correspondent way. There is an intellectual knowledge of God--that is, if God is a thinker, an architect, a builder, man, who is made in God’s image, may think God’s thoughts over after Him, may trace his achievements to His plans and make inferences as to His wisdom and power--that is, may thus know Him. God is thus revealed in what we call nature. This is natural theology. If we want to know God as a thinker, we must use our thinking powers, employ our thinking processes. As a thinker, God reveals Himself to our thinking. Geology reveals to us God as an architect and builder; so does astronomy. One of the methods of intellectual culture is to think over the thoughts of other thinkers. When you say, “That man knows Shakespeare, is a good Shakespearean scholar,” I understand this, that he has thought over Shakespeare’s thought in all of his great dramas, knows Shakespeare through these thoughts. In one passage, for example, he has felt the power of Shakespeare’s imagination has felt it in his own imagination, by yielding his Imagination up to the control of Shakespeare’s imagination, as a sparrow might try the same flight as an eagle. Thus only can he feel it. There is an ethical knowledge of God--a knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself to the human conscience. When Coleridge says that the Bible finds him in deeper depths of his nature than any other book, he refers to this revelation of God which He has there made of Himself to man’s moral sense. It is not the book, but the Author, who finds him there. It is this ethical revelation of God in the Bible which gives its grip upon man’s nature. The conscience is man’s deepest part, the essential man. There is an ethical knowledge of Shakespeare which is quite as real as our intellectual knowledge. To his treatment of our moral sense we respond with perfect unanimity. Hamlet’s uncle and Lady Macbeth feel just as you and I should feel had we the conscience of a murderer. They both break down in their three-fold nature under the burden of their guilt; go utterly to pieces in body, soul, and spirit. This ethical character of the Bible and of Shakespeare is revealed only to our moral sense. That this ethical character of the Bible appears to us so marked and prominent is partly owing to our own moral attitude toward its Author, to the moral hurt of our own nature. We feel as though a surgeon were dressing a wound which we dread to have disturbed. A creature of sinless nature would be very differently affected, would not find this ethical character at all offensive, even if he consciously recognised it.
III. The knowledge of God spoken of in the text is neither intellectual nor ethical, although it requires both the intellect and the conscience in order to reach it, to prepare the way for it. Those who do not go beyond the Sermon on the Mount stop with the intellectual and ethical in Christianity. They know God only so far as that. There is a higher mountain than that on which this sermon was delivered--namely, Mount Calvary. There is something beyond them that is distinctively Christian. God is the Creator; He is the moral Sovereign; but He is more, and Christianity shows it. The text reads, “Everyone that loveth is born of God, for God is love.” It is a charmed circle, to be entered only thus. It is very evident that the knowledge of God here spoken is not intellectual. Nor is it ethical knowledge. It does not imply any disrespect to the law of conscience to say this. They are both preparatory to something higher and better. If the views already presented are correct, if knowledge must come through methods correspondent to that knowledge, this other knowledge of God cannot come through the intellect or through the conscience. It is impossible. God is. Is what? He is a Creator. Yes. He is a Sovereign. Yes. These are what He does. God is. Is what? Is love! How can I know Him? By loving Him. There is no other way. “He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.” It is just like saying, He that will not think God’s thoughts shall not know God intellectually; he who will not observe the working of God in his conscience shall not know God morally. So, here, he who will not love shall not know God essentially, for God is love. Love understands love. Nothing else does. This is the solution, and God has adopted it. If you begin by asking how the Son of God knows God, He Himself has told us: by loving Him. “I and My Father are one.” The teachings of the Saviour are thrown into the simplest intellectual form. Indeed it would be a strong epithet to apply to them to call them intellectual at all. Intellect is not prominent in them, does not preponderate there; truth is there; life is there. It is just so as to the conscience. Ethics are not prominent in them. He Himself has said, “For I came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Me might be saved.” Humanity already carries its great burden of condemnation. How can the burden be relieved? Lifted? By showing humanity that God is love. The love which reveals to us God, is love which we are taught by experiencing it and trying to imitate it. We learn to know God by loving as God loves; loving Him, loving man, and entering into God’s purposes to save him. We find God’s love in the Bible. The Bible is the record of God’s patience with men and nations. How are we to know God, who is love? Only by loving Him and walking in the footsteps of the Being who says, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” God, who is love, has taken this pains to show us Himself. By studying this life for the sake of making our lives like it, for the sake of putting into our lives the mind and spirit of it, we may come to know God. True knowledge of God can come only as we are like Him. You can come to an intellectual knowledge of the love of God as you see its exercise in the man Christ Jesus. Many a student of the Bible does that. You can bring yourself to know God in the sense of the text only as you try to do as Christ did, and from the motives that actuated Him. There is a proper emphasis to be put upon what are called good works. They have their place in the Christian system; but it is not in the light of present merit or of future reward that we are chiefly to regard them. They will have their suitable recognition when He shall come whose reward is with Him. But in good works--and that is of more practical importance--in imitation of the Son of Man in our lives, are we to find the sphere where we are to know God, since only thus do we become like Him. A great deal is said, and rightly said, about the necessity of being practical Christians in order to keep our Christianity alive; but it is the only way also in which we can keep vivid our knowledge of God, which is the basis of all our Christianity. Every such effort brings one into closer sympathy with that God who is love. The reformed man is urged to try to save other men who need the same change. It is his only safety. (J. E. Rankin, D. D.)
Only love can know love
Blindness cannot understand what light is; it has not the power to experience it. The degraded savage cannot appreciate the noble man. He has not in himself the moral qualities by which the higher nature can be understood. A coward cannot have just and adequate ideas of courage; it is a thing foreign to him. So, to understand the love of God, there must be something within us akin to it, to which it appeals. He who loves most understands God best; he who does not love does not know God in the slightest degree. (Geo. Thompson.)
Love the organ of the highest knowledge
The question is as to God revealing Himself, making Himself known to us as a loving Father. How can it be done? God is love, and love cannot be seen or handled or anatomised. It is even beyond the reach of the subtlest chemical tests. A spiritual test is needed to discover its presence. What is that test? It is love in our own hearts. Suppose some philosopher had been brought up from his birth by himself, apart, on the most rigid system of intellectual training, as, e.g., John Stuart Mill, only still more apart than he or anyone else could be, so that his heart could be utterly destitute of natural affection, so that he has plenty of logic but not a particle of love. Suppose that he is fully trained in scientific method, so that everything of the nature of an emotion has been rigidly suppressed. He can therefore approach every subject with the utmost impartiality. Well, one day he goes out to the world to spy its learning. He sees a mother fondling her babe. What can it mean? It is quite familiar to you; it is new and strange to our scientific critic. He proceeds by the true inductive method. And after he has noted all carefully down he goes home to discover what it all means. A plain, simple woman who never heard of induction has also witnessed the performance. She has taken no notes, made no calculations, and yet she knows a great deal more about it than a scientific man does after spending a year about it. What is her advantage? There is something in her heart which answers to the mother love in the heart of the other woman, and there is nothing in the man’s heart. He may apply every test and every method of inquiry that science knows without getting nearer. There are some cases in which an ounce of heart is worth more than a ton of intellect for the purposes of investigation. It is as true as ever that only love can understand love. It cannot possibly be discovered by any process of induction. It is the function, not of the critical faculty, but of the heart. It is a loving, longing heart that recognises the presence of Him whose name is Love. (Christian Weekly.)
1 John 4:8
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love
The love of God: the God of love
Is God knowable?
The answer is no--and yes. No, He is not knowable to the intellect, with its prying and searching; provable, perhaps, but not knowable. Yes, He is knowable indeed to the heart. It is a poor kind of love that depends for its proof upon the skill of the logician. The love is lost by default that must hire counsel to take up its case and eloquently contend for its existence. Love must tell its own story, and carry its own proof. This loftiest knowledge dwells not with intellectual strength. See how the Lord Jesus Christ recognises this truth, and bases all prayer upon it. “Our Father which art in heaven.” The relationship which is the strongest possible claim upon help and love is to be transferred to God. “Our Father”--what does it mean but that He is bending over us to pity us and to help us; to teach us and to make us good; glad indeed when we do well? This is the first step and beginning of the know ledge of God. Let us try to think how otherwise we can know God. Tell me of Him as the Omniscient--the All-wise. How can I know what that means? I know only by what I am conscious of in myself, or by what I see about me. But within me or about me what is there that can teach me of the All-wise? I am only bewildered as I hear of such an One--I know Him not. I hear of the Almighty, but what does it mean? I judge of strength by my own arm, or by the winds and angry seas; or by the power of human mechanism. In all these I can see only matter overcoming matter. I have nothing by which to know the Omnipotent. I hear of the Self-existent, the Independent. What is that? I see all things depending alike for their source and their sustenance upon others. What then can I know of Him whose name is “I Am”? And if I turn from these aspects to the moral character of God, I am yet more bewildered. Tell me of the righteousness of God. Sin has put out the eyes by which I can see true righteousness; and perhaps as much in mercy as in punishment. But think again. If I did know all this about God, I should not know Him. Vastness, immensity, knowledge, power, leave me as utterly as ever a stranger to God. But tell me that He is love--that what love is, that is God--then I know Him. I know now how He feels and thinks and acts. I know now how to come to Him, and to speak to Him. Now do I know Himself when I know that He is love. He that loveth knoweth God--look at this faculty within us by which we know God. Love is ours as nothing else is ours. The slow and irksome toil of learning is not needful for love. The dullest scholar may be a very master of this art, and the most unlettered may read aright the signs and mysteries of love. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
The loving heart the faculty for knowing God
I. The loving heart, not the inquiring intellect.
II. The loving heart, not the creative imagination. Imagination has swept the universe, and yet failed to discover God.
III. The loving heart, not the excited conscience. The excited conscience has formulated a God, but it has been a God of vengeance, wrath, and fury. God is only known to the loving. If I know the controlling feelings of a being, I know him, though I may be ignorant of his person and his history. Profoundly philosophical, therefore, is the statement that “He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” (Homilist.)
The love of God manifested by the sending of His Son
There is singular force in the expression “God is love.” He does not say that God is benevolent, or kind, or merciful, or compassionate, or affectionate: he does not say that God is a Being of infinite goodness, or mercy, or loving kindness: but, as if he intended to magnify above measure this most adorable of the Divine attributes, he pronounces Him to be the quality in the abstract, and thus, as it were, identifies the Godhead with love.
I. With respect to that Being whom we call God, infinite as He is in all His perfections, our limited understandings can comprehend only a very small portion of His excellence. “The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him”: still less can His nature be compassed by the little span of the human mind. Yet of this much we are assured, that His power is such, as to be incapable of being controlled, and that His happiness is such, that nothing can enhance or augment it. And these are two of the Divine attributes which, when we reflect on the Godhead by Himself, tend most satisfactorily to prove His benevolence in condescending to interfere for the salvation of mankind.
II. From the Sender, let us turn our thoughts to Him who was sent. “God sent His only begotten Son.” The greatest trial which human nature can sustain is perhaps the loss of a son, of an only son.
III. And whither was He sent? He was sent into a world which was altogether “lying in wickedness.” How unbounded, in this respect again, how great, how disinterested appears the love of God!
IV. Let us not forget the purpose for which He was sent, as a farther testimony that God is love. “He was sent that we might live through Him”: for us men, and for our salvation He came down from heaven. And as the love of God is thus manifested, in that we were His enemies, for whose salvation His Son was sent, so is it, more over, manifested by the greatness of the salvation, which was wrought by His coming: a salvation great in every particular respect; great in respect to its extent; great in respect of the deliverance which it affords; great in respect to the means of grace which it now affords us, and of the all-sufficient aid of Christ’s Holy Spirit to overcome our natural weakness and corruption; and great in respect of the hope of everlasting glory which it reveals to those who shall hereafter be admitted into His presence. (Bp. Mant.)
Our salvation intelligible in the light of God’s love
I. In the sight of God man is a being of unspeakable worth. And the fact is only intelligible in the light of this first fact, “God is love.” It is very easy to prove the insignificance of man. The scientist, for instance, traces him to the ape, and says, “This is where he came from”; or he dissects his brain, and says, “Thought, emotion, love, imagination, poetry, worship--see the marks of every one of them upon this material tablet, which we call the brain.” And this gospel story the cynic indulges in cheap sneers at it, and asks if you are going to make an angel out of this sorry being with his vulgar appetites and animal lusts. The sober-minded Deist, out of pure reverence for God, he thinks, refuses to believe the story. That the infinite God should concern Himself with man and his paltry destiny is incredible. And it is incredible. Man is so small, mean, ignoble, unworthy, until you read his story with the eyes of love; until you remember this--“God is love.” But every mother will waste the wealth of her brave heart upon the boy in whom no one but herself can see one sign of grace or virtue. But it is a luxury to her to serve him. The man who believes in no prophet but the political economist thinks that Christian philanthropy is sheer infatuation, sheer waste of human energy. And so it is to everything but love. Love sees worth in what to every other eye is contemptible. The poorest, most sin-sodden is to God a mirror in which He sees Himself. Beautiful, of infinite worth to Him! Divine in Him, for “God is love.”
II. God seeks for every man the most perfect destiny; the most perfect good.
1. The good of man includes the whole man. It includes the body. To preach the gospel of health is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. God intended us to die as the ripe fruit falls from the tree. The physician is God’s servant, as well as the preacher. It includes the mind. God claims every pure-minded writer as His workman. It includes the sunniest as well as the gloomiest sides of human life. The frosts of winter work for the harvest.
2. But these things are preliminaries. They exist merely for the sake of a greater thing than themselves. Beyond these there is something still sacreder and more precious--the spirit. Here man finds his most perfect good, and God works through every other good to this. There lies the difference between Divine love and human love. We ignore the highest for the sake of the lowest. We ruin our children in the name of the vulgarest and ignoblest thing in them, and we imagine that to be love. The child’s native indolence grumbles against the drill and what he calls the hard work of the school. “Poor overtaxed boy!” says the mother; “I must not permit it”; and he grows up with a flabby mind that is not fit for such a world as this. I often saw in Upper Egypt an ancient temple pulled to pieces to build a village of hovels. I have seen a band of roving gypsies tear down the exquisitely carved panels of an old palace to light a fire to boil their kettle with. And I have seen young people take the studies in which they had been long immersed, and with them light the fires of sordid pleasures and the many foolishnesses of fashionable life. We Use the highest to light the lowest. Not so God. God also has His fire; and the fire is your religious life. And God uses your whole soul, your whole nature, to supply fuel for that fire. Your intellectual life; you read, you think; but you read and think that you may have fuel for the fire. You go through the drill of your daily work, you wrestle with temptations; it is fuel for the fire. You join hands with others in the joy of worship. The Word of God feeds you, the common hymn and the common prayer thrill you; it is all fuel for the fire. This is man’s highest good as God reads it; this God feeds, for “God is love.”
III. God has made sufficient provision to secure every man’s highest good. There is a very famous English poem--of course you know who wrote it--it is called “Pictor Ignotus,” the painter who chose to remain unknown; the man of genius, the born painter, who refused to paint because men would not understand, would not properly appreciate his work. He would never degrade the genius that was in him by pandering to vulgar wealth. But that is not the noblest genius. Real genius must express itself, even for its own sake. Forgive the illustration. God must express Himself for His own sake. God has poured out the wealth of His redemption. We may reject it or receive it: God must give it. He has been telling it unweariedly through the ages. Men have rejected it, treated it with contempt. It matters not: to God to tell Himself was a necessity, for “God is love.”
1. In the redemption of man God has found a work by which He manfully express Himself. Men talk of the wonders of nature. They often become so absorbed in nature that they have no wish to look beyond it. But these were the mere trifles of God’s works. God had never been able to tell Himself in these. But Christ came; Calvary came. This is God; this was the solution of the world’s problem: God had told Himself at last. Pardon, hope, life, for all the world; the break of the eternal day. This is God.
2. The love of God makes it all credible. It would be impossible to believe it did we not know that “God is love.” Everyone believes the Bible to be a marvellous book. It is when you speak of the Cross, when you speak of the “Lamb of God,” of the sins of the world being laid upon Him, that men begin to hesitate and stammer. “No, no; that is incredible; that can never be,” they say. But love--the love of God--makes even that--makes every item of the story credible. I have seen the miracles that love works. The Cross shall be forever the symbol of love’s perfect triumph. It was love, it was love that did it. “God is love.”
IV. God will work out the provisions that He has made so that they shall not miss what they aim at. Set it down as a certainty that God’s love will win, that the gospel of love will tell. This love often uses terrible means to secure its purpose. Do not miss that. Not terrible means for the sake of using them, but terrible means because it will not submit to be beaten. Terrible disasters require terrible remedies; but he who can use terrible remedies, loves. So is it with some of you. You have been sore tried; hut God set so much store upon the design He is cutting into you, that He may set you in the fire even yet. He will not miss His aim; for “God is love.” (J. Morlais Jones.)
Affections essential to the moral perfection of the Deity
God is perfect love, all His affections are pure and clear as the crystal stream.
1. Benevolent affections form the moral beauty of the Divine character. God is love. His independence, almighty power, and unerring wisdom are mere natural perfections; but His benevolent feelings are moral beauties.
2. Men are required to imitate their heavenly Father. Power, wisdom, and all the natural perfections of the Deity are above imitation. There is nothing in the nature of God which any of His creatures can imitate, except His benevolent feelings.
3. The Scriptures ascribe affections to God in the most plain and unequivocal terms.
(1) It may be said that the passages which ascribe affections to God are figurative, and ought not to be taken in a literal sense. We are never to depart from the literal sense of Scripture, without some apparent necessity.
(2) It may be said that affections are painful, and consequently cannot belong to God, who is perfectly happy. It is true, affections are always painful when they cannot be gratified; and this is often the case among mankind. But since all the affections of the Deity are only different modifications of pure, disinterested benevolence, they admit of a constant and perfect gratification, and always afford him a source of complete and permanent felicity.
(3) It may be asked, “How is this notion of Divine affections compatible with that perfect immutability and simplicity which all divines ascribed to the Deity?” We may observe here that there is a plain distinction between such a mutability as does, and such a mutability as does not, imply imperfection. If a man who was a sinner yesterday becomes a saint today, it implies no imperfection in God to change His affections towards that person.
1. This subject may give us some faint conceptions of the strength and ardency of the Divine affections.
2. In the view of this subject we may discover what it was which moved God to the work of creation.
3. It appears from what has been said that God is pleased with the existence of everything which takes place in the universe. His heart is in all His works.
4. This subject suggests matter of great consolation to those who are interested in the Divine favour.
5. This subject warns sinners to flee from the wrath to come. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
God and love
I. In the first place, I think we should take this text as it stands--as being literally and completely true. It needs no qualification, admits of no complement. That “God is love” is not one side of the truth, but the whole truth, about God. No addition is possible. The leaf, we are told, is the stem expanded--the stem is the leaf closed. This text is theology closed. All theology is this text expanded.
II. We are to take it as true of God at all times and in all places. Nothing but love has ever reigned on the throne of creation; nothing but love ever will reign. Christ did not create, He revealed, the love of God. The love of God has no shallows. It is equally deep everywhere--Calvary deep Wherever you try it.
III. “God is love.” When? Always. “God is love!” Where? Everywhere. Love built heaven. Love made earth. Love made hell; and its pains are the measure of God’s love for goodness--its flames are love on fire.
IV. Now, one word as to the effect this revelation ought to have on us. One effect is joy. This text, if we believe it, will assuage our sorrow, lighten our hearts, and brighten our lives. “God is love,” I say. “Of course!” you say. How commonplace! But look into old creeds, look into modern philosophy, where God is Force without heart, and Law without pity. Look at your own lives, at the records on the pages of memory. Are you not glad for your own sakes that God is love? (J. M. Gibbon.)
The love of the eternal
I. Love the dominant quality.
II. Man’s presumptuous criticism. St. John’s statement does not imply that love’s activities are necessarily in accordance with human conceptions of love. Who art thou, O man, with thy limited perception, blind to all the future--who art thou, that thou darest to say what infinite, omniscient, eternal love ought to do? As well expect the fly that crawls on the dome of this majestic cathedral to interpret the purposes and methods, the disposition and attributes of the architect. Do not expect that because God is love you are going to understand all that God is doing around you and for you. It may be a token of the greatest love that you know nothing of it.
III. Indulgence not love. It is the office of love to seek the final good of its object; to bless the object rather than pamper it; to raise and ennoble and glorify it rather than minister to its passing whims and caprices. Does not this thought interpret some of the mysteries of life to us? Does it not let in daylight and sunlight upon the dark experiences of this sorrowing earth? (W. J. Hocking.)
God has many attributes, and we see Him and adore Him under many aspects; but the essence of Deity is single, and His being is “love”! Other things He does, but this He is. And observe the power of the present tense. It is not, “God was,” or “God will be,” but now,--in an eternal and unchanging now,--“yesterday, today, and forever,”--“God is love!” Take the sweetest moment of your whole life,--take the moment of the greatest manifestation of God’s goodness that has ever been seen in this world, and it is the very same now, unshaded, undimmed; no sins of yours will alter it. Doubtless there are difficulties. The brightest lights throw the deepest shadows. But the mists which cloud the summer morning are only made to melt into the sweeter noonday brightness. “Was it love,” a man says, “to make man, and then let him fall into sin and misery?” The answer is two-fold. First, man was made a free agent. This was a first principle in the creation of this world. Secondly, man, the whole race of man, is better for the fall. Had man not fallen, Christ would not have come to this world. But another objects:--“See all the suffering and wretchedness there is now in this world--how is that consistent with the Divine government of love?” First, all the suffering, in the main, is man’s own fault. The suffering is the result, directly, or indirectly, of voluntary sin, which might have been avoided. But secondly, this world, having fallen, is now passing under discipline and training for another and better world; and the suffering is the discipline essential to the educating processes of the present life. Thirdly, if there are degrees in glory, the degree of the glory must depend on the degree of the grace; and, to a great extent, the degree of the grace is dependent on the degree of the schooling. But I hear it said again, “Why has God left such a vast proportion of the inhabitants of this earth ignorant of Christ, and of the way of salvation?” God has not left them ignorant. He willed and provided that “all should know Him.” He commanded His people from the very first, to “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Had we done our duty, all would have been right, and this whole world have been evangelised. And we believe that the heathen who have not known God will not be judged as we shall be. Everyone will be judged according to his knowledge and his conscience. But, leaving all these cavils, let us look at this matter very practically. At this moment there is not a person--whatever his past might have been, or whatever his present is--who might not, this very day, be freely and perfectly forgiven, and be quite happy. He might have the sweetest peace, and perfect assurance in his mind. He might be quite confident of the love, the infinite love of God. He has a Father, a tender, loving Father in heaven. Treat God as “Love,” and you will find Him “Love.” But remember “love” is sensitive. “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way/’ If you wish a picture of God in your mind, study the “father” in the parable of the prodigal. If “God is love,” may I not say, “Love is God”? The highest characteristic of our religion is “love.” If you have no love, you have no God! The measure of the “love” is the measure of the “God.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The love of God
I. This emphatic description refers to the nature, as well as to the operations of God.
II. The truth of the assertion, that God is love, appears in His providential dealings with the children of men.
III. In the redemption of mankind our Lord has displayed the full glories of His love.
IV. The truth of the assertion appears with peculiar evidence, by tracing the dealings and methods of His grace towards every individual who has interest in the Saviour. Conclusion:
1. Let me address careless sinners in the language of warning and reproof.
2. Let me address those who, drawn by the attractions of Divine love and redeeming grace, are saying in sincerity, “Whatever others do, we will serve the Lord.”
(1) Submit, without murmuring, to the various dispensations of His providence.
(2) Love this God with supreme regard and gratitude.
(3) Imitate this God of love, and seek, through grace, to resemble your heavenly Father.
(4) Is that glorious Jehovah, to whom you have devoted your hearts and lives, indeed the God of love? Then recommend Him as such to your friends and families while you are on earth, and long to be with Him in the heaven of heavens. (A. Bonar.)
“God is love”
A briefer sentence it would be difficult to find; yet how infinitely vast and wonderful is the truth which lies within its compass! The very centre and source of all things. Although this is the one truth about God which we can know, yet it is the last truth which we accept. Most men believe in the existence of God, in His power, in His wisdom. There are others who vaguely believe that He is good and kind. But there are few men who really think of God as love. And very many spend their time in putting up fences and limits to the love of God, as if it were beset with statutes, and thoughts of precedents, and dread of presumption. Would that we believed it as God has taught it in His Word! The great power in the world to redeem men, to uplift, to ennoble men, is the power of love. To love, to be loved, is a restraint, a constraint, a transformation. Love is the true salvation. And yet what can it avail to tell of love? Words may do for some things, but to hold love they are too little, too shallow, too coarse, too cold. And even if words could tell of it, who were the richer for hearing them? What avails to tell a hungry man of a banquet? To see and not to have may be an agony. A sermon about the love of God, if it be a sermon only, is a stone that mocks one’s hunger. The love of God is ours not in words only, but ours in deed and in truth; ours to accept it; to rest in it; to delight in it. How then may we make it ours? Well, take the words and brood over them until the very Spirit of God speaks them to the heart. “God is His own interpreter”--and only love can tell of love. To its anointed eye all things are revelations and emblems, and to its tuned heart every breath is music. Love is not to a crowd; compassion, pity there may be for a multitude, but love is separate; it is personal; it is distinct and peculiar. God’s love is like His sunlight, diffused throughout the heaven, catching the heights of the hills and crowning them with ruddy gold and clothing them in purple. So it seems to us an easy and a natural thing for God to love some people; outstanding men and women whose goodness might make them dear to Him. But this is not all that the sun does. It climbs higher that it may creep lower--down the hillsides further and further, until it lifts the mists of the valley and covers the meadows with its glory; and kisses the daisy and fills its cup with gold, and puts energy and strength into its very heart. God loves the good, the true, the pure, but His love rises higher that it may come down lower; and He loves me--me. Do not grieve Him any longer by doubting it. God is love. Is--eternity lies within the compass of that little word. (M. G. Pearse.)
God’s love unfathomable
I know what it means to love; but I have no conception what love is when it rolls in the bosom of an infinite God. I know what light is as it shines from my candle, but do I know what the sun is from that? I know what water is when I take a drop of it in my tumbler, but do I know the thunder of the ocean from that? I know that when I see God He will be wise; but how little do I know of the wisdom of God? I know that He will be a God of love, but oh! how little do I know of the extent and grandeur of that love! How imperfect are my slender ideas as means by which to fashion this supremest attribute of the infinite and eternal God. It is by these qualities that I know my God; but I know Him only by specimens--by small samples. My conceptions of Him are imperfect. (H. W. Beecher.)
God always love
“God is love,” was the motto on a weathercock. The owner on being asked “if he meant to imply that the love of God was as fickle as the wind?” replied, “No, I mean which ever way the wind blows, God is love; if cold from the north, or biting from the east, still God is love as much as when the warm south, or genial west wind refreshes our fields and flocks.” Yes, so it is; our God is always love.
God’s love changeless
You have seen the stream that in summer was broad and flowing, in winter covered with a thick coating of ice; but God’s love is a stream that never freezes. You have seen the fountains that in winter, when the springs were active, had an abundant supply of water, but when summer came with its drought, were dry; God’s love, however, is a fountain that never becomes dry. You have seen the sun pour a flood of golden beams upon the earth through the live long day, and set in darkness as night approached; but God’s love is a sun that never sets. You shall see the world burning, and the stars drop from their orbits, and the heavens be rolled up like a scroll; but God’s love lasts forever and ever. (W. G. Pascoe.)
1 John 4:9-10
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world
Divine love in its highest manifestation
Mark in illustration of the immensity of that love--
The dignity and worth of Him who was given to the world for its manifestation. “God sent His only-begotten Son into the world.” This was the first step in the demonstration of His matchless benignity.
II. Observe, as a further illustration of God’s love as here set forth, the condition to which He freely surrendered His Son. “He sent Him into the world.” “He sent Him to be the propitiation for our sins.” And think!--this love has been shown to you! All this God did to prove Himself gracious to you--to you, the most ungrateful and hard-hearted here this day, who do not, will not love Him in return?
III. Consider a third particular which the text adduces in illustration of the great love wherewith God has loved us, namely, the glorious end, in relation to our race, which that love contemplated. “God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” That which the apostle here means by “life,” is happy existence--existence in connection with the highest and fullest development of all our powers, both of perception and enjoyment; existence in the possession of the Divine favour and love, moral rectitude, and internal purity. A life is it whose vigour no power of disease can undermine, whose actings are superior to waste and fatigue, whose duration is lasting as Jehovah. Oh! what, then, must be the measure of that love which gave Christ to procure for us such a benefit as this?
IV. Consider, in the last place, how marvellously this love is enhanced by the fact, that it was love to the unloving. “Herein is love,” says our text, “not that we loved God.” What should be the effect upon us of such contemplations.
1. Love begets love, and if God has so loved us, we should surely love Him in return.
2. Love is exemplary and if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (C. M. Merry.)
The love of God
There are two notions of God that have more or less prevalence among men. One represents Him that if there were not a man on earth, if there were nothing in all creation from side to side, there is that in Himself that would make Him forever overflow with taste, and feeling, and love. The one ascribes to Him a nature that is merely susceptible of being called out upon the application of the motive. The other ascribes to Him a nature that pours itself abroad in the earth by reason of its own fulness and richness. It is the latter of these two ideas that I suppose the Scriptures to teach. In our text God’s love for us is not affirmed to exist because God perceived a spark kindled in us, gradually flaming forth and reaching up toward Him. God did not love man because man had prepared himself and made himself lovely, nor did Divine love spring forth from any deed of God’s by which He, for purposes of government, aroused and incited Himself to strong emotion. Love springs not from an act, not from a fact of redemptive sacrifice, The love of God for the world was manifested in the Cross, instead of being created by it.
I. God’s love does not depend upon our character, but upon His own. I do not mean to say that it makes no difference whether a man has a good or a bad character. I do not mean to affirm that there do not spring up, between the Divine nature and ourselves, by reason of our relations to that nature, certain deep intimacies and more wonderful affections. But I do mean to affirm that there is a great overshadowing of love to us, that exists, not on account of our character, but on account of His.
II. The divine love exists and works upon us, not alone when we are conscious, but evermore. Men mount up under flashes of glorious realisation, and it seems as if God then began to love them, because they then first become sensitive to His love. When a man has passed through religious changes from darkness to light; when he has put off his worldly character, and taken on the character of Christ; when, coming out of despondency, the compassionate Saviour rises before his imagination, and he says, “Christ has begun to love me”--his impression is that the Divine love for him began when the burden which had weighed down his soul was rolled off. This is as if a blind man, who had never seen the heavens, nor the earth, nor the sweet faces of those who loved him, should have a surgical operation performed upon his eyes, resulting in the restoration of his sight, and he should think to himself on going out of doors, “Oh! how things are blossoming! The earth is beginning to be beautiful! Mountains and hills are springing up in every direction! The forms of loving friends are being raised up to meet my gaze! And the sun has just begun to shine forth from the heavens!” But have not these things existed since the creation, although the man’s eyes have not before been in a condition to enable him to see them? A man has lived in a cellar, where he has been a poor, confined creature, striving to live a life which was but like a prolonged death. At last he is permitted to go up one storey, and then one storey higher, and then yet another storey. Thus he keeps on exploring and going up, until finally he reaches the roof. There he beholds the heavens over his head, and the sun in the east, and he is tranced with amazement by the glory of the things which surround him. And yet, every single day during his existence, and for countless ages, the heavens have hung above the earth, the sun has shone forth in splendour, and the creations which astonish his vision have been beheld by men. For forty years he has been in the cellar, and now he has come up where he can see, it seems to him that objects now appear for the first time, because he sees them for the first time. So it is with the disclosures of the love of God in Christ Jesus to Christians. They think that the time at which they first realise God’s love is the time when it is first shed upon them. But as God pours abroad infinite breadths of His being without an eye except His own to behold, so He spreads over our heads an unknown, an immeasurable love, waiting for our recognition, but in no wise depending upon it.
III. There is something unspeakably affecting to me in this thought of the solicitude of Divine love for men, and its patient continuance in God without consciousness on our part. There is something sweet in interpreting the nature of God from the family. Now who can tell the sum of the thoughts which the mother bestows on the child? And yet he is unconscious of most of her solicitude concerning him. He knows that she loves him, but he only feels the pulsations of her love once in awhile. I think we never know the love of the parent for the child till we become parents. Not only does God think of us constantly, and love us steadfastly, but there is a healing, curative nature, forever outworking from the Divine mind upon ours, even although we may cooperate voluntarily with His will. All these yearnings which we have for good, are the crying out of the soul for God, under the influence of His love to us. Every throb of our spirits that answers to spiritual things is caused by the influence of God. And that is not all. We have testimony in the workings of the providence of God in the experiences of our daily life, that God’s love is still shed upon us, although we may be unconscious of it. I recollect to have read the case of a man in a city of Southern Europe, who spent his life in getting property, and became unpopular among his fellow citizens on account of what seemed to them his miserly spirit. When his will was read after his death, it stated that he had been poor, and had suffered from a lack of water; that he had seen the poor of the city also suffering from the same want, and that he had devoted his life to the accumulation of means sufficient to build an aqueduct to bring water to the city, so that forever afterward the poor should be supplied with it. It turned out that the man whom the poor had cursed till his death had been labouring to provide water for the refreshment of themselves and their children. Oh! how God has been building an aqueduct to bring the water of life to us, He not interpreting His acts and we not understanding them!
IV. God’s love is not, as too often ours is, the collateral and incidental element of his life and being. It is His abiding state. All time and all eternity are filled with it. All plans are conceived and directed by it. All histories and all administrations are transfused with and carried forward in it. All triumphs are to end in it, while all that cannot be made to harmonise, and blend, and cooperate with it shall be utterly swept away.
1. Can any other truth so justify and enforce an earnest, instant, manly search, to see if these things be so?
2. If what I have said is true, can any honourable man justify himself for not coming into a living faith in and communion with God?
3. Will not the realisation of such a nature, brought home to us personally, account for all the sometimes discredited Christian experiences? (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ the manifestation of Divine love
1. The love of God as a principle is, of course, eternal. Like His own nature, it is uncreated, self-existent, and independent.
2. But, while the love of God as a principle is from everlasting, the manifestations of this love are related to events, and to circumstances, and to time. Now the manifestation of God’s love not only makes us acquainted with it, but renders that love available to us. Now, in the text, a gift is introduced as manifesting God’s love.
I. The nature of this gift. Now here, you observe, a being is given to us, and a being closely related to God Himself; so closely related to the Father that we must look upon Him as the Son of the Highest. This Being is sent into our world--sent to live in close connection with it; for He is born of a woman, and sent into our world to become thoroughly indentified with it. He is indentified with it as a newborn babe; He is indentified with it as an infant; He is indentified with it as a child; He is indentified with it as a youth; He is indentified with it as a man; He is indentified with it as pursuing the ordinary occupations of His country and age.
II. The intent of this gift. To give “life.” Originally, life was staked upon a covenant. God said to our first father, “Do this, and you shall live.” That was a covenant of works, and the continuance of life to Adam under that arrangement was his due. The covenant is broken, and it is utterly impossible for God to place us now under a covenant of similar character. If we are to have life now, it must be by a dispensation of mercy. And while He personally imparts to us that life which consists in freedom from condemnation, He gives us life in soul and spirit by “the Spirit of God.” (S. Martin.)
The manifestation of Divine love in the gospel
The wife of Tigranes was among the captives on a certain public day when Cyrus, the conqueror of Asia, was reviewing his troops. While the captives pressed forward to see the conqueror, Tigranes presented himself before Cyrus and offered a thousand talents for the redemption of his wife. Among the observations afterwards made respecting the appearance and glory of the conqueror, this noble lady was asked what she thought of Cyrus. She had not seen him. On what then was your attention fixed? On the man who offered a thousand talents for my redemption. And on whom should the attention of Christians be chiefly fixed, but on Him who gave, not a thousand talents, but His own most precious life, for their redemption? We admire the magnanimity of Judah, when we behold him, in concern for the sorrows of an aged parent, offering himself to servitude in the room of the favourite son of the deceased Rachel. But what was this compared with Him who took the sinner’s place under law, and so to speak, received the full discharge of wrath Divine? Let all the archives of antiquity be explored; bring forward all the generous sacrifices of Greece and Rome; and what are they all to the amazing love here displayed? The love which we celebrate stands alone and without a second. It is the most profitable subject of contemplation that can occupy the mind. It carries you up to those views of God which are the most sublime, the most transforming, and the most happy. (E. D. Griffin, D. D.)
The love of God to men in the Incarnation of Christ
I. It is a great evidence of the love of God to mankind, that He was pleased to take our case into consideration, and to concern Himself for our happiness. Now that He, who is far above us, and after that we by wilful transgression had lost ourselves, had no obligation to take care of us, but what His own goodness laid upon Him; that He should be so solicitous for our recovery, is a great evidence of His goodwill to us, and cannot be imagined to proceed from any other cause.
II. Another evidence of God’s great love to us is, that He was pleased to design so great a benefit for us. This the Scripture expresseth to us by life; because, as it is one of the greatest blessings, so it is the foundation of all other enjoyments.
1. We were spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins, as the apostle speaks (Ephesians 2:1-2).
2. We were likewise judicially dead in law, being condemned by the just sentence of it. What a surprise of kindness is here! that, instead of “sending His Son to condemn us,” He should “send Him into the world to save us.” But His love stopped not here; it was not contented to spare us and free us from misery, but was restless till it had found out a way to bring us to happiness.
III. The last evidence of God’s great love to us was this, that God was pleased to use such a means for the obtaining and procuring of this great blessing. “He sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”
1. The person whom He was pleased to employ upon this design: “He sent His only-begotten Son.”
2. How much He abased Him, in order to the accomplishing of this design, implied in these words, “He sent Him into the world.”
3. To whom He was sent, to the world.
4. That He did all this voluntarily and freely, out of His mere pity and goodness; not constrained hereto by any necessity.
What remains but to apply this to ourselves?
1. Let us propound to ourselves the love of God for our pattern and example.
2. Let us readily comply with the great design of this great love of God to mankind.
3. With what joy and thankfulness should we commemorate this great love of God to mankind. (Abp. Tillotson.)
The love of God
I. The characteristics of God’s love.
1. Everlasting in its date (Jeremiah 31:3).
2. Unmerited in the objects of it (Ezekiel 36:21-23).
3. Immutable in its nature (Psalms 89:30-36).
4. Of unspeakable value (Ephesians 3:17-19).
5. Eternal in its duration (Ephesians 3:11-12).
II. The manifestation of God’s love.
1. The greatness and glory of the person sending: God (Isaiah 57:15).
2. The dignity of the person sent: Christ, the God-man (Hebrews 1:3).
3. The place into which He was sent: this world (1 John 4:9).
4. The purpose for which He was sent: salvation (Galatians 4:4-5).
III. The gracious design.
1. A life of reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:18).
2. A life of justification before God (Romans 5:1).
3. A life of Divine communion in God (1 John 1:3).
4. A life of consolation and genuine happiness (2 Corinthians 1:5).
5. A life of eternal glory in heaven, body and soul (Psalms 73:24; Galatians 6:8).
IV. Improvement. The nature of this life has many most paradoxical traits connected with it.
1. A warlike yet victorious life.
2. A painful yet pleasurable life.
3. A friendless yet friendly life.
4. An humble yet exalted life.
5. A dying yet eternal life.
6. A worthless yet most precious life. (T. B. Baker, M. A.)
The supreme manifestation of God’s love
I. The amazing. Manifestation of Divine love, which is here described. As when some eminently beautiful object rivets the attention of a traveller, so that he scarcely gives even a passing glance to other objects; so the believer’s thoughts are so fixed upon one manifestation of God’s love. “In this was manifested the love of God,” etc.
II. For whom this wondrous love has been manifested. “God sent His only-begotten Son into the world.” It might have happened that, for some reason known to the Creator, such a sacrifice should have been necessary for the world in its first state of innocence; and even in such a case the love of God in sending His Son would have been inconceivably great; but what was really the state of the world, when this love was manifested in its behalf? We shall learn what the state of the world is, by considering what we ourselves are. Some are sincerely desirous of living to the glory of God, while others are seeking to please themselves. But what are the best feelings of the best of us towards God? What is the best conduct of the best of us in comparison with the will of God? Alas! how cold are our affections! How inconsistent is our habitual deportment! The devices of Satan, how often we allow ourselves to be deceived by them! And, if the best are so bad, what must the worst be? And yet God sent His Son into such a world! Oh, what wondrous love!
III. The object which God’s love had in view when He sent His Son. “That we might live through Him.” (A. Stackhouse, M. A.)
God’s love manifested in Christians
The love of God is not a public spectacle. Love is not a material thing, that all can see alike. Thousands saw the Cross who saw nothing of the love. Where can the love of all that passion, that blood, that death, be seen? “In us,” who by faith in the blood are saved to life eternal. A man goes down to the shore when a storm is raging. He sees a wreck in the offing and a crowd on the beach, He finds that he is too late to see what they have seen--the lifeboat manned and launched--to see the rescue of those on board. He has come too late for all that, but he can yet see the love of it all in the gratitude and gladness of the saved. In all those saved folk he can see the love of it all made manifest. Well, Calvary is hidden from us. The dying ended in three hours, but the love of it all is manifest in us--in every soul saved from hell--in every gleam of hope that lights the gloom of death--in all the ways by which Christian charity ministers to the needs of men. “When thou seest an eagle,” said Blake, “thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head.” Yes, and when thou seest a Christian--a soul saved from hell, and being saved from sin--thou seest a manifestation of the love of God. Lift up thy soul in praise. (J. M. Gibbon.)
The love of God
I. God loves man. Why, with a little child speaking of his mother’s love, sometimes they fail; how much more when we speak of God’s love! I saw a little child the other day clasp its arms round its mother’s neck, and say, “Mother, I loves ‘ou, and I know ‘ou loves me, but I don’t know how much ‘ou loves me.” So the little child spoke; and if it is true in that love, how much more in the love of God, of which all human love is but a shadow, a spark!
II. God has manifested His love. “In this was manifested the love of God.” Of course God has manifested His love in ten thousand ways. Why everything in Nature, if we only see it rightly, is a manifestation of God’s love. Every ray of warm sunshine is but a going out of God in love. But oh, the manifestation of God’s love in nature is not enough to make us live. When some great artist manifests his skill in a work of art, begotten of his genius, it is exhibited in carpeted saloons, amid grandeur and pomp, and within tapestried walls. But when God manifested this masterpiece of grace His only-begotten Son--it was in the manger of Bethlehem, amidst the surroundings of poverty. Oh, have you believed that love? Many of you have heard about it, but it makes a vast difference when you believe it. The other day I stood by the death bed of a young man; his wife was beside it, and some friends were in the adjoining room; and I stayed there talking with them. And one earnest young man said, “Sir, can you understand why God allows such sorrow as that?” And I said, “Honestly, sir, I don’t understand it; but I know that God loves us, and He knows what is best for us. Supposing I had a friend in trouble and I lent him £20,000; do you think that after I had done that I should see him starve for the want of a sixpence? Well, then, if God loves us so much that He gives His Son, let us trust Him for the rest, though we cannot understand it.” (M. Rainsford, M. A.)
The love of God manifested in the Son
“In this,” it was shown, manifestly and undeniably, beyond the reach of misapprehension or comparison. It had been shown before, but how feebly, how doubtfully, compared with that strength of evidence, that display of power which attends its existence now. During that whole period which preceded the coming of our Lord, sin was thus spread over the whole of human kind; and like the fog that hangs on the surface of the earth, it intercepted those bright rays which issue externally from the great source of light in heaven. And this seems to have been the case with man previously to the dispensation of grace in the gospel. He felt the love of God in part. The love of God may be beheld in every object that we see, but they alone see this glorious attribute in its true colour, in its full development, who fix their eyes on the person of Jesus Christ, and who study the real greatness of the love of God as revealed in Him.
I. We say it is shown in the nature of that work which He came to do. Let us consider that work, its character, its object, in order to understand the greatness of the love which prompted it. To silence every cavil, to give an evidence of the love of God which imagination should not reach, to place it above the level of every doubt or insinuation, Christ came, not to cure our natural evils, not to teach, not to direct, though any one of these acts might well have awakened amazement; but He came to die for sinners.
II. Let us now endeavour to remark the evidence of the love of God, which is included in the manner in which that work was accomplished, and the effect produced by His ministry.
1. Let us observe first, in the certainty of its accomplishment. Eternal life is purchased for us by Jesus Christ, and it is offered to all in Him, absolutely and universally. “This is the record,” says St. John, “that God hath given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son.” He hath given it. He who is the truth itself hath given it, and hath given it in His Son. “He, therefore, that hath the Son hath life.” He that hath the one is secure, absolutely secure of the other. Unlike other marks of love, where there is no positive connection between the pledge and the possession, between the means and the end; unlike the gift of riches, for instance, which does not ensure contentment; unlike the gift of health, which does not ensure joy; unlike these, the gift of Christ ensures eternal life.
2. Again, let us observe it in the largeness of its offers, in the multitude, the innumerable multitude of those who are included in the compass of this love of God. Who has ever come to Christ, and been excluded for want of room?
3. Think, finally, how much it exceeds in magnitude all that was ever before expected. Eternal life, a life of everlasting joy, of uninterrupted holiness and peace. Compared with this, what are the distinctions and circumstances of the world but the colours which adorn a shadow; the illusions of a dream which passes away and is gone? (H. Raikes, M. A.)
God’s love manifested in redemption
I. The redemption of mankind was an act of the freest and most unmerited grace.
1. God’s designs of mercy could not arise from His thinking the constitution He had made with Adam as the representative of his posterity severe and unrighteous.
2. God was not moved to provide a Saviour for His creatures by any sense that His law was too strict in its demands.
3. The inability to perform his duty, which man contracted by his fall, did not render his case in the least more deserving of compassion.
4. God was not moved to this act of unmerited grace by any foreknowledge He had that mankind would receive it with thankfulness.
II. The redemption of mankind is a full demonstration of the unbounded love of the Divine nature. (R. Walker.)
God’s love proved
Does God’s love need to be proved? Yes, as all paganism shows. Gods vicious, gods careless, gods cruel, gods beautiful, there are in abundance; but where is there a god who loves? Non-Christian thinkers can now talk eloquently about God’s love, and sometimes reject the gospel in the name of that love, thus kicking down the ladder by which they climbed. But it was the Cross that taught the world the love of God; and, apart from the death of Christ, men may hope that there is a heart at the centre of the universe, but they can never be sure that there is. Nature and history give but ambiguous oracles on that subject. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 John 4:10
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins
Herein is love
The infinite spring of love. Our text has two words upon which I would place an emphasis “not” and “but.” The first is “not.” “Herein is love, not”--“not that we loved God.” Very naturally many conclude that this means “not that we loved God first.” That is not exactly the truth taught here, but still it is a weighty truth, and is mentioned in 1 John 4:19 in express words--“We love Him because He first loved us.” We inscribe a negative in black capital letters upon the idea that man’s love can ever be prior to the love of God. That is quite out of the question. “Not that we loved God.” Take a second sense--that is, not that any man did love God at all by nature, whether first or second. The unregenerate heart is, as to love, a broken cistern which can hold no water. We come nearer to John’s meaning when we look at this negative as applying to those who do love God. “Not that we loved God” that is, that our love to God, even when it does exist, and even when it influences our lives, is not worthy to be mentioned as a fountain of supply for love. What poor love ours is at its very best when compared with the love wherewith God loves us! Let me use another figure. If we had to enlighten the world, a child might point us to a bright mirror reflecting the sun, and he might cry, “Herein is light!” You and I would say, “Poor child, that is but borrowed brightness; the light is not there, but yonder, in the sun: the love of saints is nothing more than the reflection of the love of God.” We have love, but God is love. Let us contrast our love to God with His love to us. We do love God, and we may well do so, since He is infinitely lovable. When the mind is once enlightened it sees everything that is lovable about God. He is so good, so gracious, so perfect that He commands our admiring affection. In us there is by nature nothing to attract the affection of a holy God, but quite the reverse; and yet He loved us. Herein, indeed, is love! When we love God it is an honour to us; it exalts a man to be allowed to love a Being so glorious. He that loves God does in the most effectual manner love himself. We are filled with riches when we abound in love to God; it is our wealth, our health, our might, and our delight. It is our duty to love God; we are bound to do it. As His creatures we ought to love our Creator; as preserved by His care we are under obligation to love Him for His goodness: we owe Him so much that our utmost love is a mere acknowledgment of our debt. But God loved us to whom He owed nothing at all; for whatever might have been the claims of a creature upon his Creator, we had forfeited them all by our rebellion. Let us turn to the “but.” “But that He loved us.” I should like you to meditate on each one of these words--“He loved us.” Three words, but what weight of meaning! “He,” who is infinitely holy and cannot endure iniquity--“He loved us”; “He,” whose glory is the astonishment of the greatest of intelligent beings--“He loved us.” Now ring that second silver bell: “He loved us.” He saw our race ruined in the fall, and He could not bear that man should be destroyed. He saw that sin had brought men into wretchedness and misery, and would destroy them forever; and He would not have it so. He loved them with the love of pity, with the love of sweet and strong benevolence. Would a man want any other heaven than to know for certain that he enjoyed the love of God? Note the third word. “He loved us”--“us”--the most insignificant of beings. Observe that the previous verse speaks of us as being dead in sin. He was wroth with us as a Judge, but yet He loved us: He was determined to punish, and yet resolved to save.
II. The marvellous outflow of that love. Consider every word: “He sent His Son.” God “sent.” Love caused that mission. Oh, the wonder of this, that God should not wait till rebellious men had sent to His throne for terms of reconciliation, but should commence negotiations himself! Moreover, God sent such a One: He “sent His Son.” Yes, “He spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all.” He knew what would come of that sending of Him, and yet He sent Him. Note further, not only the grandeur of the Ambassador, but the tenderness of the relationship existing between Him and the offended God. “He sent His Son”‘ The previous verse says, “His only-begotten Son.” Christ’s death was in fact God in human form suffering for human sin; God incarnate bleeding because of our transgressions. Are we not now carried away with the streams of love? Go a step further. “God sent His Son to be a propitiation,” that is, to be not only a reconciler, but the reconciliation. His sacrifice of Himself was the atonement through which mercy is rendered possible in consistency with justice.
III. The consequent outflow of love from us. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Our love then to one another is simply God’s love to us, flowing into us, and flowing out again. If you and I desire to love our fellow Christians and to love the fallen race of man, we must be joined on to the aqueduct which conducts love from this eternal source, or else we shall soon fail in love. Observe, then, that as the love of God is the source of all true love in us, so a sense of that love stimulates us. Whenever you feel that you love God you overflow with love to all God’s people; I am sure you do. Your love will respect the same persons as God’s love does, and for the same reasons. God loves men; so will you; God loves them when there is no good in them, and you will love them in the same way. Our love ought to follow the love of God in one point, namely, in always seeking to produce reconciliation. It was to this end that God sent His Son. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The perfect love
God is love. But if we say that, do we not say that God is good with a fresh form of goodness, which is not justice, nor truthfulness, nor purity, bounty, nor mercy, though without them it cannot exist? And is not that fresh goodness, which we have not defined yet, the very kind of goodness which we prize most in human beings? And what is that? What--save self-sacrifice? For what is the love worth which does not show itself in action; and more, which does not show itself in passion, in the true sense of that word, namely, in suffering? On the Cross of Calvary, God the Father showed His own character and the character of His co equal and co-eternal Son, and of the Spirit which proceeds from both. For there He spared not His only-begotten Son, but freely gave Him for us. The comfortable prosperous man shrinks from the thought of Christ on His Cross. It tells him that better men than he have had to suffer; that the Son of God Himself had to suffer. And he does not like suffering; he prefers comfort. The lazy, selfish man shrinks from the sight of Christ on His Cross; for it rebukes his laziness and selfishness. Christ’s Cross says to him--Thou art ignoble and base, as long as thou art lazy and selfish. Rise up, do something, dare something, suffer something, if need be, for the sake of thy fellow creatures. He turns from it and says in his heart--Oh! Christ’s Cross is a painful subject, and Passion week and Good Friday a painful time. I will think of something more peaceful, more agreeable than sorrow, and shame, and agony, and death. Yes, so a man says too often, as long as the fine weather lasts, and all is smooth and bright. But when the tempest comes; when poverty comes, affliction, shame, sickness, bereavement, and still more, when persecution comes on a man; then, then indeed Passion week begins to mean something to a man; and just because it is the saddest of all times, it looks to him the brightest of all times. For in his misery and confusion he looks up to heaven and asks, Is there anyone in heaven who understands all this? Then does the Cross of Christ bring a message to that man such as no other thing or being on earth can bring. For it says to him--God does understand thee utterly. For Christ understands thee. Christ feels for thee. Christ feels with thee. Christ has suffered for thee, and suffered with thee. Thou canst go through nothing which Christ has not gone through. Passion week tells us, I believe, what is the law according to which the whole world of man and of things, yea, the whole universe, sun, moon, and stars, is made: and theft is, the law of self-sacrifice; that nothing lives merely for itself; that each thing is ordained by God to help the things around it, even at its own expense. On this day Christ said--ay, and His Cross says still, and will say to all eternity--Wouldest thou be good? Wouldest thou be like God? Then work, and dare, and, if need be, suffer, for thy fellow men. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
The love of God
I. John would have us magnify the love of God by the demerit of its objects. God had thoughts of love towards us before man had existence. “We rejoice in hope of eternal life, which God that cannot lie hath given us before the world began.” Then view man as created. “God made man upright, but he sought out many inventions.” Sin soon entered our “world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The apostle, speaking of the heathen nations, says, “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful,” etc. So when God looked down upon the children of men, to see if there were any that sought after God, He says, “They are all gone out of the way, there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Do you ask, “Were not the Jews an exception here? for to them were committed the oracles of God.” God planted them in His vineyard, and fenced it in, and gave it every kind of culture, so that He said, “What more could have been done than I have done to My vineyard?” Yet what was His testimony? “When I looked that it should bring forth grapes, wherefore brought it forth wild grapes?” We pass from the prediction, and read the history of the transgression. “He was in the world, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” What must have been the condition of man, not to love the perfection of holiness, the source of excellence, the fountain of life, the supreme good? What must have been the perversity of his mind which should induce Him to regard God as an invader, and to say, “Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways”? Now the carnal mind is enmity against God; there is no neutrality here. “He that is not with Me,” says the Saviour, “is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth abroad.” We are alienated in our minds by wicked works.
II. The exclusiveness of the exercise. (W. Jay, M. A.)
The love of God, and the response due to it
I. In referring to the love of God, as exhibited by the apostle, there are a variety of aspects offered to our notice.
1. There is the fact that the free, unbought love of God, is the source of human redemption.
2. The matchlessness of the Divine love, as demonstrated in the mode of its expression.
3. The signal issues of the Divine love, as it achieved a propitiation for sin.
4. A propitiation has been made.
II. The response which is due on the part of man to these matchless displays of the Divine love.
1. It is by faith that we embrace the propitiation of the gospel.
2. The costly character of the propitiation of God bespeaks a corresponding dedication to its benefits.
3. Infinite love bespeaks fervent response from us. (A. Forman.)
The great benefit received by the Incarnation
I. From the excellency of the fountain and original, from which it springs that is the love of God to us.
1. The instance: “Herein is love.” A speech it is of great emphasis, spoken by the apostle with great strength of affection; and it carrieth with it a three-fold intimation.
(1) It is a specification of that affection, or rather attribute, in God, which most of all shone in this great work of Christ’s Incarnation. It was His love that employed His wisdom, His power, His righteousness; set them on working for our good and benefit.
(2) It shows the real proof and manifestation of His love. It was love testified in the reality of love. It intimates not only an act of love, but an effect of love, a fruit of love. It was not a well wishing love only, but a love that breaks forth into action and evidence.
(3) It carries with it the most clear and full demonstration of love to us. Other fruits of love He hath vouchsafed us, and we enjoy them daily; but none so evident proofs of His love as the sending of His Son to us.
2. The illustration of the greatness and excellency of this love. “Not that we loved Him, but that He loved us.”
(1) We may resolve these words into a preventing sense. We began not with Him in this league of love, but He began with us. That is one excellency of His love; it was a forward, antecedent, preventing love.
(2) We may resolve it into a negative sense. We loved not Him, and yet He loved us. That is another excellency of His love; it was a free, undeserved love, no way due to us.
(3) We may resolve it into a comparative sense. Had we loved Him, or do we love Him? Yet that is nothing in comparison of His love to us. “Herein is love, not that we loved Him”: no great matter in that. Our love to Him--it is not worth the naming.
II. The excellency of the benefit which flows from the fountain--that is the sending of Christ to accomplish our salvation. And here are three great and gracious fruits of love.
1. That He would send to us.
(1) This act of sending to us argues much love. It had been much for Him to admit of our sending addresses to Him. Consider upon what terms we stood with God, and we will confess it.
(a) The inferior should send and seek to the superior.
(b) The party offending to the party offended.
(c) The weaker should send to the stronger.
(d) They that need reconciliation should seek to him that needs it not.
(2) God sent Him to us wittingly and willingly. Our Saviour came not of Himself only, but the Father sent Him. It was a full mission and commission. He sent Him; yea, more than so, He sent Him and authorised Him (John 6:27).
(3) He sent Him--
(a) Not as a Messenger only but as a Gift also; that is the best kind of sending. He so sent Him as that He gave Him to us.
(b) He was a gift not only promised but actually bestowed and exhibited to us. We enjoy Him, whom the prophets promised, the patriarchs expected.
2. Here is an higher expression of His love in that He sent His Son to us.
(1) Take notice of the dignity of Him that was sent (Philippians 2:6-7).
(2) For so great a God to send any, though never so mean, to such wretches as we were, had been a favour more than we could expect; but to send His only Son, His beloved Son, is a testimony of love beyond all comprehension.
3. The purpose and end of sending Him--that is, “to be the propitiation for our sins.”
(1) It was for sins.
(a) It had been much for just and good men and for their benefit.
(b) To mediate for those that have offended another is a kindness and office of love that may be found amongst men; but God is the Person wronged, our sins are all against Him, His law was broken, His will disobeyed, His name dishonoured. Yet see His love--He sends to propitiate and expiate our sins against Himself.
(c) To send to rebels in arms and to offer them pardon, hath been found amongst men; but for rebels subdued and under the power of their sovereign, nay, shut up--we lay all at His mercy--and then He sends unto us His propitiation.
(2) It was for the propitiating of our sins. That was the great work for which He came (Isaiah 27:9). That was His errand on which He came. This He published and made known to the world.
(a) To propitiate is to appease God’s wrath and displeasure, justly taken against us, and to reduce us into grace and favour again. He loved us in our deformity, that He might put upon us a spiritual beauty. He loved us when we displeased Him, that He might work in us that which pleaseth Him.
(b) He did it by the means of making a full satisfaction to the justice of God for us. He hath done away our sins, not by a free dispensation, but by a full and just compensation.
(c) What is the matter of our propitiation--the price of our ransom? That is the highest improvement of love. He is our propitiation: not only our propitiator, but our propitiation. He is not only our Saviour, but He is become our salvation--as David speaks. He is not only our Redeemer, but our ransom (1 Timothy 2:6; Isaiah 53:10; Romans 3:25; Leviticus 17:11). He was not only the Priest, but the Sacrifice also. He not only acted for us, but suffered for us (Galatians 2:20; Galatians 3:13).
III. What effect should this love of God work in us?
1. It should teach us to fasten our admiration on this great love of God, to work ourselves to an holy wonderment, that God should bestow such love upon us.
2. This great love of God to us calls for another effect: that is an holy retribution of love to Him again. Provoke thyself, inflame thine heart with the love of Him who hath so loved thee.
3. This love of God requires in us an holy imitation. In particular, imitate this love of God in all the characters of love expressed in my text.
(1) The reality of thy love. Show thy love by the fruits of love, as St. John speaks (1 John 3:18).
(2) We must imitate this love of God in the preventions of love, in showing of love, going one before another.
(3) We must imitate this love of God in the condescensions of His love to our inferiors, to our enemies.
(4) We must imitate this love of God in that great and main effect of His love to our souls in freeing them from sin (Leviticus 19:17). Love to the soul of thy brother, it is the best love; and to keep him from sin, or to free him of sin, it is the best love to his soul. (Bp. Brownrigg.)
Christ the great propitiation
Leave Christ as God’s salvation out of the Bible, and it is of little account to a guilty, perishing sinner.
I. We are to state the import of the term, or show you what we are to understand by propitiation, And here I would appeal to the understanding of all men, whether we have not some other idea of this word than what is contained in repentance, amendment, and mortification. The Jews well understood the meaning of it: they had their eucharistical and expiatory or atoning sacrifices. Now can it reasonably be supposed that the apostles would recede from the well known meaning of this word, especially in their writings to the Jews, and always use it in a metaphorical or figurative sense? Further, the heathens were no strangers to the sense of the word propitiation.
II. To inquire into the necessity and importance of it. By necessity, I do not mean that God was obliged to provide an atonement for the sin of man. Misery may excite but not oblige to pity, especially where guilt is the spring of it; and ruin the just consequence of apostasy. I know the Socinians suppose the goodness of God will not admit Him to demand or receive a satisfaction. Mercy is abundantly more natural and glorious without a propitiation; but the Scripture asserts the fact, and points out the necessity of it. I stay not to inquire whether God could not have fixed on any other method of recovery. Had we proper apprehensions of the holiness and justice of God when we consider this, and our circumstances as transgressors without saying what He might do, we may well adore Him for what He has done. The necessity of an atonement might be further evinced from the sanction of the law, clothed with the authority of a God who cannot lie; a God as jealous of His glory as of His faithfulness. As to the importance of the blessing of propitiation. Is there anything valuable in the favour and friendship of God?
III. To point out something of the excellence and perfection of this propitiation.
1. That God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
2. The doctrine, worship, and faith of the Old Testament saints were directed to this as the great centre of efficacy and perfection.
3. God the Father, sustaining the character of a Judge, has declared the highest satisfaction in it, by raising His Son from the dead and crowning Him with honour and glory as Mediator.
4. He will receive no confession, petition, or thanksgiving but through His hands. No man can come unto the Father but by Him. Lastly, the virtue of this sacrifice remains the same through all ages.
IV. That propitiation is the pure effect of Divine love, and the brightest display of it. By love we mean not a foolish, weak passion, but such favour, grace, or mercy as founded in infinite wisdom and in full agreement with all the perfections of God; and that the gift of His Son is the fruit of Divine love stands uncontested. Love is the noble spring of all the good the believer has in time, and all the glory he will possess in eternity; but the gift of God’s Son exceeds them all. Application:
1. Sinner, art thou deeply affected with thy guilt, and afraid of the consequences of thy transgressions? Here is a remedy exactly suited to thy ease.
2. Let believers labour, in the strength of grace, after the comfortable evidence of an interest in that which is to be their great support in death and security in judgment. Lastly, let us all take heed that we are not deceived; repentance and reformation without Christ will leave us short of heaven. (Samuel Wilson.)
I. The state of man required a propitiation.
1. The perfection and excellence of the law which he has broken.
2. The inability of man to expiate his offences.
3. The inflexible nature of Divine justice, which supports the honour of the law, and enforces its claims.
II. Jesus Christ is the propitiation required.
1. No creature could or would become a propitiation for man.
2. Jesus Christ is every way adapted to become our propitiation.
3. The Scriptures everywhere testify that Jesus Christ is our propitiation
(Isaiah 53:5-7; Isaiah 53:10; Matthew 20:28; Romans 3:24-25; Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 9:22-26; 1 John 2:2). The Father gave the Son (John 3:16). The Son gave Himself (Galatians 1:4). He offered Himself through the Eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).
III. This propitiation is a glorious display of the love of God.
1. Unparalleled in its nature.
2. Intense in its ardour.
3. Immense in its extent.
4. Glorious in its purpose and final issue.
1. How pernicious is the doctrine of Socinianism, which completely destroys this only hope of a penitent--redemption by Christ!
2. How dangerous is the delusion of the self-righteous!
3. What abundant consolation does this subject afford penitent sinners!
4. In this love of God we are furnished with a rule and a motive for love to each other, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (Sketches of Sermons.)
The atonement for sin, by the death of Christ
I. State the case, with regard to the nature and necessity of the atonement, as represented in scripture.
II. Establish the fact that Jesus Christ has offered a true and proper atonement for sin.
1. I am well aware it does nothing towards the proof of this proposition to observe that this is precisely such a provision as the circumstances of man required, while it was perfectly consistent with all the attributes of Deity that God should grant it. There is nothing in the Scripture doctrine of the atonement by Jesus Christ repugnant to the most correct ideas of fitness and propriety, with regard either to the offending or the offended party. If man had never sinned, we should have seen the glory of the Divine power, wisdom, and benevolence in the creation of the world. If, having sinned, man had been left to perish, we should have seen the glory of the Divine justice. If he had been freely pardoned, without any satisfactory atonement, we should have seen the glory of the Divine mercy; but, having sinned, and receiving free forgiveness and eternal life by means of an adequate, because infinitely valuable, atonement, we see the glory of all the Divine attributes, and, overwhelmed with the astonishing exhibition, exclaim with the apostle, “Herein is love.”
2. The universal prevalence of sacrifices.
3. The sacrifices of the Mosaic economy.
4. The language of the prophets.
5. The testimony of the apostles, from that of Philip, in his preaching to the eunuch, to that of John, in the visions of the Apocalypse.
6. The language of Jesus Christ Himself. (T. Raffles, LL. D.)
Love is its own perennial fount of strength. The strength of affection is a proof not of the worthiness of the object, but of the largeness of the soul which loves. Love descends, not ascends. The Saviour loved His disciples infinitely more than His disciples loved Him, because His heart was infinitely larger. Love trusts on, ever hopes and expects better things, and this a trust springing from itself and out of its own deeps alone. (F. W. Robertson.)
God seeks our love
A mother said to her pastor, “I wish some one could tell me why the Saviour died for us. I have never heard it answered to my satisfaction. You will say it was because He loved us; but why was that love? He certainly did not need us, and in our sinful state there was nothing in us to attract His love.” “I may suppose,” said her pastor, “that it would be no loss for you to lose your deformed little babe. You have a large circle of friends, you have other children, and a kind husband. You do not need the deformed child; and what use is it?” “Oh, sir,” said the mother, “I could not part with my poor child. I do need him. I need his love. I would rather die than fail of receiving it.” “Well,” said her pastor, “does God love His children less than earthly, sinful parents do?”
1 John 4:11
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another
The Doctrine love a pattern for the human
“God is Beauty,” said the Greek; “God is Strength,” said the Roman; “God is Law,” said the Jew; “God is Love,” says the disciple.
“It came to this that the Son of God had for love to lay down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” St. John seems to say, “Yes; but you will not be much called on to do that when things are settled. You will not be asked for your life--will you then give up something of your living? There is more call for that. Whoso hath the world’s livelihood (βίος) and looks on his brother in want, and locks his compassions out of his reach--how is God’s love imminent in him?” The barbed question is followed up by a glowing indignation, called for it would seem, even in those days of first love. Ah! “Little children of mine, do not let us be loving in word, nor even in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Not so much theory, not so much even of warm expression, but reality. “If God so loved us, as now we know He did, we owe it to love one another.” It is a debt. That life was given, and given to us. There must be some obligations growing out of that utterly unearned increment. Surely it is by our working that God will cease to permit the misery that He has not made. Repay, redress, rebalance, we cannot by mere almsgiving, however liberal. But “this world’s goods”--“the life of this world (βίος )” of which St. John asks us to give him some--“this world’s life” is more than its spare monies. Breath, light, space to be decent, and healthful food; order and peace and rest, and beautiful sights and sounds; knowledge and the power to care for it, time to consider, religion, and a belief that religion and worship are for the likes of them, and not a form of luxury; these are regions of “the life of this world” which we inherit, but which have been fenced and walled from millions. When we with the best intent are building, broad and high, castles of dwellings for artisans we still are not working on the lines of nature and society. Sanitation and accommodation, with even recreation added, are not all that the simplest society claims. Society, to be society, must have society. It cannot be all of one grain. The simplest must have some little range of ranks. It must have some elements of inspiration from without it, and from above it, in force sufficient to be felt. Some loving spirits must go and dwell among them; who will not hear of brutality being regarded as the natural law even of the lowest; who will begin by expecting of them, even as of others, soberness and honesty and care for the family, and through expecting patiently will create. There are the ἀρχηγοί of a new society, and there is no form of influence fuller of power, fuller it may be of trial, but also fuller of reward, and richer for the future. What the few bear who live thus, what discouragements, what broken pledges, what fallings back, what mad sounds by night, what sights by day, no novel and no visitor can describe. None know but they who live there. And yet there are the elements of society. There is duty constantly scorning selfishness, suffering brutality rather than wrongly escape from it, working itself to death for the children rather than take them to the workhouse. There are sacrifices as strange as the sins that impose them. Again, there are ears that will hear, men and families that will advance their whole standard of life, under the influence of those whom they have seen loving them for nought. (Abp. Benson.)
The Divine example of love
I. Love should be exercised by us after the example of the love of God (verse 11). What, then, were the features of the Divine love, and what ought to be those of our love?
1. The love of God was universal. He expressed it to all, good and bad, worthy and unworthy.
2. More than this, the love of God has been conspicuous toward His enemies (Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8-9). In this respect also we are bound to imitate the Divine example.
3. This is farther demanded, though it should be at the cost of the greatest self-denial. It need not be asked at what expense did God express His love for sinners? What, then, shall we refuse to suffer for the benefit of others?
4. Nor let us overlook that our love, like God’s, should be aggressive. We are not to wait until we are besought. God did not so deal by us.
5. To complete all, love should be constant. Nothing should weary it or cause it to relax.
II. In the exercise of this love we enjoy communion with God (verse 12). “No man hath seen God at any time.” It is as if it had been said, although “no man hath seen God at any time, yet, if we love one another, God dwelleth in us.”
1. When we engage in duties of brotherly love we are conscious of the Divine approval. And this applies to all duties of brotherly love, whether those that relate to our immediate connections, or the Church of Christ, or the world.
2. There is a sustaining sense of the Divine cooperation. God is with us in them.
3. He will bless us and our work!
III. Thus also “his love is perfected in us.” This expression may be understood either of the love of God, as it is perfected when it produces love in us, or of our love when it is perfected in the exercises of brotherly love.
1. The love of God is perfected in us. From the beginning He had a design of love toward every one of His people. But that design is not carried out into completion until His grace secures the heart, and fills it with His love.
2. Or the saying may be understood of our love when it is perfected in the exercises of brotherly love. The Divine love is perfected when it inflames our souls, and makes us like God in love. And our love, thus kindled by the love of God, is perfected in the deeds of charity.
IV. In our brotherly love we are furnished with the evidence of our fellowship with God, as it is seen to arise out of the indwelling of the Spirit. “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” These fruits do not grow on the soil of nature. They are the plants of grace alone, and proclaim their heavenly origin. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The love of the Father
I. The love of the Father an incentive to mutual love among Christians.
1. On the principle that like begets like--
(1) The primal source of real spiritual love is the Divine nature;
(2) The manifestation of Christly love is an evidence of spiritual regeneration;
(3) The incentive to mutual love among Christians thus becomes all-inspiring and important.
2. On the principle of Christian professions--
(1) Every professing Christian professes to “know” God;
(2) But “he that loveth not, knoweth not God”;
(3) Not to manifest the spirit of love is thus inconsistent with the profession a Christian makes of knowing God.
II. The love of the Father in its marvellous example.
III. The possession of this Divine love is an assurance of richest spiritual blessings--the Divine indwelling and perfection of love. Lessons:
1. The revelation of the Divine love in Christ and in Christianity the highest truth, and its demonstration most scientific and clear.
2. The leading design of the manifestation of God’s love in the new birth of souls into the same love the sublimest and most blessed of all possible objects.
3. The importance of each Christian being an exemplification of the reality of God’s love and of the gift of His Son is thus seen to be most vital, as constituting one of the leading features in Christian apologetics--an unanswerable argument for the fundamental fact of Christianity.
4. As love is the most essential force for elevation and regeneration of the human race, Christianity is the only spiritual force yet discovered for that most-devoutly-to-be-wished-for consummation. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
I. What relation we stand in to God.
II. The relation we bear to one another.
1. We are all creatures made of the same ignoble materials, and derived from the same Hand.
2. We all agree in one common nature.
3. We have all of us occasion for the assistance of one another.
4. As to the injuries we may receive, they do not come up to our sinning against God.
(1) Our sins against God are more numerous than the injuries one man offers to another.
(2) Another difference is the greatness as well as multitude of our sins.
5. Let us consider the relation we bear to one another as being united in one common Christianity, and having embraced the same profession of faith. A motive this, to love, the most prevailing that can possibly be urged.
III. What benefits God hath conferred upon us. Were our minds fully possessed of a hearty sense of the extreme bounty of God, we could not be so base as to deny Him the only returns we are capable of making, that is love and compassion for one another.
IV. The kindness and love we are capable of showing those of the same frame and constitution with ourselves, comes prodigiously short of the marvellous favours and repeated kindnesses we have received from God. (R. Warren, D. D.)
God’s love the pattern for our love
“If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
1. Because ignorance of what God means by love must now be wilful.
2. Because doubt and uncertainty as to the objects of love are forever excluded.
3. Because the power of love to conquer obstacles and impediments is, in God’s case, most gloriously shown.
4. Because the restoration of love between man and man is one of God’s objects in that redemption which so proves His love for us.
5. Because we are required to be followers of God as dear children.
6. Because love on our part must be pleasing to God.
7. Because “hereby we express our love towards God.” (S. Martin.)
The Divine prototype of love
“If God so loved us.” How? The preceding verse shows us some of the glorious traits of this love.
1. Its greatness and depth. One may dip out the ocean with a shell sooner than exhaust the ocean of God’s love with the little bucket of human conceptions. It is as boundless as God Himself, for “God is love” (verse 8). But the apostle puts into our hand a scale to measure even such greatness (verse 9). Is there for a father a greater offering than to give up his only son? “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” The greatness of this Divine love ought also to be the motive to and the example for our love to our neighbour.
(1) Surely the motive. How often are we stirred to love by beauty merely, by talent, or other excellences, or even sometimes by pleasing weaknesses; but not first and foremost by the thought that God the Lord in Christ went after him in love!
(2) And our example. We are by nature egoists. “For all seek their own” (Philippians 2:21). The soul of God’s whole activity, from the creation to the new creation, is love. And now has God, indeed, opened “the bowels of His mercy and compassion” (Luke 1:78), and in Christ given Himself, His best, His heart, to men for their own; so that “whosoever receiveth Christ receiveth the Father that sent Him” (Luke 9:49). But we? Even when we make our loving sacrifices, we keep back to ourselves the greater part of ourselves. Do thou, my hard, selfish heart, with thy scanty, wretched love, which scarcely ever deserves the name, be transformed after this great, Divine pattern! But love shames us yet in many other things. We are further amazed at--
2. The all-embracing extent of this love. God sent His Son into the world. He gave Him not to some few, but to all. How often our love suffers from a miserable straitness of heart! Towards some, sometimes towards those who love us, we are very kind and pleasing, but towards others indifferent. Some attract us, numberless others are repulsive. And oh! what wretched pettinesses often suffice to lock up our hearts so that not the least drop of love can flow out! God's love did not suffer itself to be held back, nor to set itself any bounds: it embraced all, even its enemies. God finds people enough to love His beautiful and richly-gifted children; but few whose love goes far enough to receive the miserable ones also. If we desire to do what is pleasing to God’s heart, let us also love those whom no one else is likely to love! And if our courage fails us for this--for such love requires much courage--let us look up to the primal example of God’s love, which condescended to this miserable world.
3. The clearness and calmness of God’s love. The greater and stronger the love of men, so much the harder for it to remain clear and calm. The bleeding Lamb of God on Calvary shows not only how deeply and all inclusively, but also how clearly, and soberly, and holily God loves the world. He will heal its sin and guilt, and therefore He suffers the Lamb to bleed. He must judge while He heals, and He heals while thus judging. Thus clear and calm, too, was the love of Christ, in all its greatness. How He loved His disciples, and yet how soberly and calmly He pointed out to them their errors! “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Do we do it? Alas, how rare among us is that great and therefore sober love which steadily seeks to make our neighbour better! Either we continue clear and calm, and our love is, commonly, very lukewarm; or else it is great and warm, while we are as it were blind and dull.
4. Its unselfish disinterestedness. We love those who please us, who love us, or from whom we expect love. Therein appears the interestedness of our love. God loves those who love Him not; from whom, moreover, He can have no great hopes of love. Just as unselfish, too, is Christ’s love. In all His life of love He never seeks His own gain--not His honour, not His advantage, not His proper esteem, but only the honour of the Father and the salvation of the world. He puts away all self-help from His love (Matthew 4:3, etc.; 26:53, etc.); renounces the applause of the great masses, especially of the rulers; and walks the way of self-abnegation and the Cross. “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another”--so unselfishly, so disinterestedly. How rare is the love in which one thinks not of himself, but only of the welfare of another; which forgets one’s self, seeks stillness and retirement, lets not its left hand know what its right hand doeth; yes, even expects nothing for itself, because it has its own reward in itself; which therefore rewards evil with good, which blesses them that curse us, and does good to them that hate us!
5. The steadfastness and faithfulness of the love of God; which is not less worthy of imitation. Only the unselfish love “never faileth.” Selfish love, in its very selfishness, has a worm in itself which speedily gnaws away its life. The purer love is, the less it changes. Because God’s love is without any mixture of impure self-seeking, therefore is it so steadfast. (Prof. T. Christlieb.)
Observe clearly this line of thought. “If God so loved us, we ought also so to love Him.” That is the first plain inference. But how? There is only one way--“loving one another.” To love God as He is, in Himself, is an abstract thing. This is only a feeling. To “love one another” in Him, and Him in “one another,” is action, and love is action, and action tests reality. “We ought”--we are under a debt to love one another. God’s love has placed us under this obligation. Whom are we to “love”? “One another.” Who is “one another”? All the great brotherhood; in the family of God. And if it be asked, What! all? All! The poorest, the meanest, the most wicked, the vilest? Find your answer in that “us”; or rather, for so each one of us ought to do--in the “me,” which goes to make the “us.” But “to love one another”--one another! It is, by reciprocity, not only to love, but to be loved. Now, am I wrong in thinking that to some of us it is a harder thing to consent to be loved than it is to love? There is a feeling of superiority in being kind to a person. It is pleasant to nature. It is a sort of patronising. But to receive kindnesses, especially from some persons, is an act of great humiliation. But you must love, and be loved, if you would fulfil the duty. You must so speak and act as to make yourself lovable to everybody. But there is a little word in the text which teaches us great lessons. “God so loved us.” How did God love us? That is our copy.
1. I notice that God’s love was originating love. He completely took the initiative. We should do the same--not wait to be loved.
2. And I notice that God’s love is a wise and thoughtful love. Our love is often very unwise and unthoughtful. There is very little mind in it; no consideration; therefore our love often does harm where it is meant to do good. God’s love is so carefully, so exquisitely adjusted. It is so very wise.
3. And God’s love, tender as it is, is always faithful. So far as reproof is faithful, God’s love is faithful. An unfaithful love is worse than hatred; and I may say very unlike God’s!
4. And God’s love is self-sacrificing love. “He spared not His own Son.”
5. And God’s love is never capricious. It never changes, except to deepen. Is your love so? Concerning love, let me further observe this--God always looks to the reflection of Himself in all His creatures. He expects to find the image of one or other of His attributes. If He finds it not, He passes unsatisfied. If He finds it, He “rests.” There He is content. Many different gifts and graces reflect different parts of the character of God; but God reflects all. Love gives back God to Himself, for “God is love.”
6. And love is the atmosphere of heaven. We are all to love now, that we may be ready to go forward. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
1 John 4:12
No man hath seen God at any time.
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us
The nearness of God
There is a saying of Hazlitt’s, bold, and at first seeming to be wondrous true, “In the days of Jacob there was a ladder between heaven and earth; but now the heavens have gone further off, and have become astronomical.” This may be taken as illustrating the belief of a large number of people who imagine that somehow or other the earth in its youth was better off and nearer God than it possibly can be, with the larger, fuller, and more accurate scientific knowledge that it has now; a fancy that the heavens have gone further away because of our knowledge of them. But no wise man would wish to go back from the effect of the scientific analysis, or undo those results of it which are the glory of the age. Because by a flash of lightning I can speak to the other side of the world--because I live in a generation in which men gain the strength of giants, and can move mountains--am I further from God? I think not. Man’s nearness to God, or distance from Him, arises from no scientific knowledge, or from the want of it. Man grows near to God by the likeness of his own soul. Still, you may say, that the revelation of God’s power made by science has removed the sense of His immediate presence. Then science has done a good work. Such a sense of nearness, brought about by a want of knowledge and a mean apprehension of God’s power, might belong to idiots, and is certainly unneeded by mankind. God is to us a greater Being than the ancients ever knew. Though we may fancy that the heavens or whatever other material place men may have thought He dwelt in have grown distant, His Spirit has grown near. It is the glory of earthly love to clasp, to hold, to have in near communion, to see, to hear, to touch. If we were speaking of mere humanities, we might, with Hazlit, lament the time when earth was so near to heaven. But when we come to speak of Him whom no man hath seen at any time, we go to the spirituality of things--we measure no longer by earthly measure. If the God you long to know is the God of the Spirit who comes to the hearts of all who seek for Him in spirit and in truth, who, in every motion of desire and love, lives in the soul, who stirs men to penitence, draws them from His own sweet influence--if this is the God you seek and long to know, your God is always near you. So long as men can hold to this spiritual perception of God, science has done no mischief; and whilst it has increased man’s knowledge has increased, too, his belief in his nearness to God; has shown Him that his knowledge of nature has altered no canon of the eternal laws; has cast no shade on any brightness of human mercy or human love; has made no change in any way in the glorious relationships between the human soul and God, by which man alone can rise to the height of his own marvellous capacities, and which alone is his belief, his pride, his hope. A religion, such as you and I profess--a religion which teaches that God’s dear Son came down from heaven to earth, and took upon Him the form of man; and which teaches, further, that in the Spirit God is still as near as when in the person of His Son He walked in Nazareth, dignifies alike the earth and man--makes man more lovable, the earth more glorious--and the presence of God to such as care to know it, an eternal reality. (G. Dawson, M. A.)
1 John 4:13
Hereby know we that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit
The evidences of true religion in man
The exercises of the mind, influenced by the Holy Spirit, are the evidences of true religion in man.
The state of the mind is known only by its exercises; and spiritual exercises indicate the operations of the Spirit of Christ.
I. Self-abasement is a certain evidence of true religion. It is a gracious exercise, the effect of a saving work of the Spirit in the soul.
II. Entire dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ is certain evidence of a state of grace.
III. Submission to the law of Christ is an evidence of true godliness.
IV. Joy in God, the Saviour of the soul, is an evidence of piety. (A. Macleod, D. D.)
The work of the Holy Spirit
The recovery of man to his lost righteousness must be by means of an agency from above. The strong evil element in our nature must be dispossessed by a stronger element for good.
I. The nature of the agent spoken of. Who and what is the Holy Spirit? He is “a Divine Being, of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.” But what is this work of the Holy Spirit in man, in regard to his salvation? In the text, it is set forth as the occupation or possession of the soul by a Divine principle, designed so to counteract the evil of our nature as to admit of our restored fellowship with God. The Spirit in us is heaven’s witness and heaven’s interpreter. Through Him Christ becomes “Immanuel, God with us.” It is when we are “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man,” and not before, that “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith.”
II. What is the appointed medium and method of this Spirit’s operations? and how is this renovating influence brought into effective contact with the human spirit? The result is commonly effected through the instrumentality of the revealed Word, “Being born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God.”
1. In these passages the Word is spoken of as an instrument only. It is only when the Spirit takes the veil away that it can be said of us, “The entrance of Thy Word giveth light.”
2. But if the Word does not convert without the Spirit, so neither, as a rule, does the Spirit convert without the Word; that is, without taking of the facts and statements of revelation, and through them, as a medium, operating upon the religious conscience.
3. In what way does the Holy Spirit ordinarily bring about in us these convictions? Is the influence absolutely miraculous, or is it bestowed in entire harmony with the known laws of mind? Plainly the latter. Taking the written Word as the instrument, the Spirit acts through the natural conscience--using that term in its broad theological acceptation, as describing the judgment which a man passes upon the rightfulness of his own conduct. And this He does by reviving its impressions; by strengthening its empire; by restoring its delicacy of moral perception, and then presenting to it objects suited to its new condition and worthy of its awakened powers. Conscience, of itself, may reprove of sin; but it must be conscience with the spirit that turns the sinner. Conscience may witness to the law, that it is broken; to God, that He is offended; to retribution, that it is awaiting us; but the Spirit only can witness to the impiety of rejecting Christ and the guilt of neglecting so great salvation. And this view of the method of the Spirit’s working, through the Word upon the conscience, will be found to be entirely congruous with the principles of our mental and moral constitution. He does not give us any new physical power to turn, but He gives us the inclination and the willingness. And the bias of inclination is that which constrains to action. As Sir William Hamilton has well expressed it, “The greatest spontaneity is the greatest necessity.” We are not driven by the Spirit, but we are “led.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
God’s life in man
It is said that the finest rose tree in the world is one in Holland, which a few years ago had six thousand flowers in bloom at the same time. The poor brier in the hedgerow might well despair of rivalling that wonderful rose tree and attaining worldwide distinction. But if some kindly hand could transplant it to a choicer soil, and give it nurture of needful skill, and if some bud from that wonderful Dutch tree could be grafted into its central fibres, the poor despised growth of the hedgerow might hope one day to bear its thousand blooms, and be the wonder of a nation. And poor in all high moral and spiritual qualities as we ourselves may be, grudging in sacrifice, ignoble in spirit, grovelling in motive, yet if God infix His own life within us, no limit can be put to our spiritual development. (T. G. Selby.)
1 John 4:14
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world
Christianity a fact and a power
Christianity is an external fact in the history of the world.
1. The condition of the world was desperate. Man through sin had destroyed himself. Nothing short of salvation would have met the case of man as a sinner. The sinner can destroy himself, but he cannot save himself.
2. This salvation was of necessity a fact. It was a great act. Thoughts and words would not have sufficed to save us; good wishes would not have availed us. To speak would not have been enough. To do was essential. Redemption was a work of infinite greatness and difficulty. And it is this that we find in the history of the Man Christ Jesus--the eternal thoughts and feelings of the Godhead realised in glorious works.
II. Christianity is a spiritual power, or a source of permanent influence on the world.
1. The Incarnation of the Son of God was the indispensable condition of the reunion of man with God. This is the highest greatness that any creature is ever capable of attaining--that God should “dwell in him, and he in God.” This does not mean to be lost like a wavelet in the ocean of Godhead, as the Pantheist imagines, but to become one with God in the affinity of holiness and the fellowship of love, and yet to preserve forever our personal individuality in the conscious enjoyment of that union. Man could not have been saved by ascending--by the mere development of his natural powers. Our salvation has been wrought by a descent of unparalleled magnitude. Descent is the ground of ascension.
2. It follows that the Incarnation and death of the Son of God form the spiritual power that is to create the world anew the moral lever for raising humanity to God. If we see a Christian of extraordinary attainments in godliness, we may be sure that this is the secret of his strength his thoughts and affections revolve constantly around this great centre, “God manifest in the flesh”; he abides by faith and love in Christ, and thereby God dwells in him, and he in God. This is the “secret of godliness.”
3. Hence the facts of our redemption accomplished in Palestine years ago remain in the world yet, as great spiritual forces operating on the souls of men to raise them to God.
1. Let us appreciate the gospel above all things.
2. Let us ever remember that godliness, and all progress in holiness, draws its strength from Christ and His Cross, His life, death, and resurrection. (G. Parry.)
The Saviour’s mission and its blessed consequence
I. The evidence for the truth.
1. “We have seen.” The apostles and others had sensible evidence of the truth of the gospel. It was impossible they could be deceived. The life of Jesus was a fact about which there could be no mistake. It may be supposed the early disciples had an advantage over us in the sensible evidence which they enjoyed of the truth of the gospel. Yet it is doubtful whether our privileges are not greater than theirs. The benefit of their satisfaction is enjoyed by us in the record of it contained in their writings. We have found the Saviour to be all that they have declared.
2. There is, however, the testimony as well as the personal observation of the apostles. “We have seen and do testify,” they say. And is not theirs a credible testimony? They were competent to observe and report accurately. They deserve our confidence, and while we give it to them, we put their testimony to the proof. We have found that the “gospel of Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation.
II. The truth so attested, “that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”
1. The origin of the gospel. “The Father sent” the Saviour. Redemption arose from the counsel of the Godhead. It could have no other origin. Had it been revealed to the intelligent creation that men might be saved by the death and incarnation of the Son of God, they would have pronounced the sacrifice to be impossible. But the mystery has been solved by the great fact.
2. The agent whom the Father employed. “He sent His Son.” He did so, because no other was sufficient. He was chosen because He alone is equal to the task.
3. The design of His mission. “The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour.” What a precious name and office! It is a complete salvation which He has provided.
4. The universal efficacy of the gospel of Christ. “The world” is the object whose redemption is proposed.
III. The view which the text presents of its reception--“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God.”
IV. The blessed consequence--“God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” These terms, so often used by the apostle, express the endeared communion, that arises out of faith in Christ, between the believer and God. It supposes an enjoyment of the Divine favour. “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” It supposes confidence in the Divine strength. Waiting upon God in prayer, that he may be enabled to resist temptation and faithfully perform the duties required of him, he is sustained by the assurance, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” It supposes an earnest effort after the Divine holiness. Sin is more and more seen to be hateful, and holiness to be increasingly excellent. It supposes unreserved devotedness to the Divine service. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
Christ the Saviour of the world
I. Take notice of some things imported in this testimony.
1. The world needed a Saviour; otherwise one had not been provided for them by Him who does nothing in vain.
(1) It was a sick world (Matthew 9:12).
(2) It was a cursed world, and needed a Saviour to remove the curse, and bring in the blessing (Acts 3:26).
(3) It was a lost world (Luke 19:10).
2. None of inferior dignity to the Son of God could be the Saviour of the world.
3. Christ was sent Saviour of the world from heaven’s proper motion. The plot to save man was concerted entirely without him.
4. Christ is fully furnished for the saving of a lost world. His being sent in that character speaks His ability to answer it (Hebrews 7:25).
5. The salvation of lost sinners of the world of mankind is very acceptable to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, as well as to Himself, otherwise He had not sent His Son Saviour of the world (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
II. Open this character, Saviour of the world, is which Christ was sent.
1. In what sense Christ is Saviour of the world.
(1) He is the actual and eventual Saviour of the elect.
(2) He is the official Saviour, not of the elect only, but of the world of mankind indefinitely.
2. What is the business committed to Him as Saviour of the world.
(1) It is to save sinners from their sin (Matthew 1:21).
(2) It is to save sinners from misery, to free them from destruction (Hosea 13:9).
I. Of information.
1. Behold here, admire, and believe the great love of God to a lost world, in providing a Saviour, and such a Saviour, for them, even His own Son.
2. Behold here a broad and firm foundation of faith for all and every one of you; that you may come to Christ, whatever your case is, and claim His righteousness and His whole salvation for yourselves.
3. Sinners living in their sins, pining away, and about to perish eternally in them, are without excuse.
4. Believers themselves may be ashamed and confounded, for that iniquity prevails so against them. Alas! it is a sad sign the Saviour is little employed among us.
II. For trial,
1. If Christ has really begun to save you, ye will have the saved man’s thoughts of sin, and of the wrath of God.
2. Ye will have a transcendent esteem of and love to your Saviour (1 Peter 2:7).
3. Ye will be groaning under the remains of the disease of sin ye are saved from; your conscience will witness ye would fain be wholly rid of it (Romans 7:24).
III. Receive the Lord Jesus, then, O sinners, in that character wherein His Father sent Him, as the Saviour of the world, and your Saviour.
1. Consider you need a Saviour. Your disease of sin will ruin you, if ye be not saved from it.
2. There is no Saviour besides Christ (Acts 4:12). (T. Boston, D. D.)
The Saviour of the world
I. The fact.
II. The author. “The Son.”
1. Because He was the most precious of all God’s possessions.
2. Because He was in sympathy with God’s own heart. No one else understood the mysteries of Divine love.
3. Because no one else was able to effectually carry out the work of salvation, or to accomplish redemption.
III. The originator. “The Father.”
1. This reminds us that although the Father is a God of justice, He did not desire to destroy.
2. It shows us how intense is His love.
3. It suggests the Divine purpose of elevating the lost, for none but a Divine Being could set a perfect example.
IV. The proof. “We have seen and do testify.”
1. The persons who record their testimony are above suspicion.
2. They saw Christ’s life, teaching, power, death. (Homilist.)
1 John 4:15
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God
Confessing Jesus as the Son of God
A deep and living conviction, a true perception of mind and heart, that “Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins” and the only Saviour for lost mankind.
2. A vital belief in His salvation, in the efficacy of His blood, and the power of His grace.
3. A hearty and full acceptance of the gospel of the Son of God; a resting in all the doctrines, a waiting for all the promises, an observance of all the ordinances, an obedience to all the commandments.
4. A proclaiming of the Lord as our Divine Redeemer in the face of the world. (J. Slade, M. A.)
1 John 4:16
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us
Loving God is but letting God love us
All men living in sin repel or draw back from the love of God, and will not let it come in upon them. We do not say “go thy way,” but we go our own way, and that means just the same thing. Doubtless it is good in God to be tendering Himself in such love, and a certain sensibility is moved by it, still there is a revulsion felt, and no fit answer of returning love is made; where, as we can see, the true account of the matter is, that the love is unwelcome, because there is no want of it, or consentingness of mind towards it; which is the same as to say that the man does not let God love him. As if the artist at his camera were to put in nothing but a plate of glass, prepared by no chemical susceptibility, saying to the light, “Shine on if you will, and make what picture you can.” He really does not let the light make any picture at all, but even disallows the opportunity.
2. Observe how constantly the Scripture word looks to the love of God, for the ingeneration of love in men, and so for their salvation. The radical, everywhere present idea is, that the new love wanting in them is to be itself only a revealment of the love of God to them, or upon them. Thus the newborn life is to be “the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.” “Love is of God, for everyone that loveth is born of God.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” “We love Him because He first loved us.” “In this was manifested the love of God toward us.” The plan is to beget love by love, and nothing is left us to do in the matter, but simply to allow the love, and offer ourselves to it. There is no conception anywhere that we are to make a new love ourselves; we have only to let the love of God be upon us, and have its immortal working in us. That will transform, that will new create, in that we shall live.
3. What tremendous powers of motion and commotion, what dissolving, recomposing forces come upon, or into a soul, when it suffers the love of God. For it is such kind of love as ought to create, and must, a deep, all-revolutionising ferment, in the moral nature. It is the silent artillery of God, a salvation that wins by a dreadful pungency; raising up conviction of sin, to look on Him whom it hath pierced, moving agitations deep, stirring up all mires. So that when the love gets welcome, it has dissolved everything, and the newborn peace is the man new composed in God’s living order. Letting God love us with such love, is adequate remedy therefore and complete, and is no mere nerveless quietism, as some might hastily judge. Or if any doubt on this point may remain, I proceed--
4. To ask what more A sinner of mankind, doing the utmost possible, can be expected or required to do. Can he tear himself away from sin by pulling at his own shoulder? Can he starve out his sins by fasting, or wear them out by a pilgrimage, or whip them out by penances, or give them away in alms? No! All that he can do to beget a new spirit in his fallen nature, is to offer up himself to the love of God, and let God love him. As he can see only by allowing the daylight to stream into his eyes, so he can expel the internal disorder and darkness of his soul, only by letting the light of God’s love fall into it. Furthermore, as he cannot see a whir more clearly than the light enables him, by straining his will into his eyes, so he can do no more in the way of clearing his bad mind than to open it, as perfectly as possible, to the love of God. And now it remains to say--
5. That when we come to accurately understand what is meant by faith, which is the universally accepted condition of salvation, we only give, in fact, another version of it, when we say that the just letting God love us, amounts to precisely the same thing. For if a man but offers himself up trustfully and clear of all hindrance to the love of God in Jesus Christ, saying, though it be in silence, “Be it upon me; let it come and do its sweet will in me”; plainly that is but letting God love him, and yet what is it but faith? In proposing it then as a saving condition, that we let God love us; we do not dispense with faith. We only say “believe” with a different pronunciation. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
A psalm of remembrance
It is very pleasant to read descriptions of the Holy Land from observant travellers, who in glowing language have depicted its interesting scenes. How much more delightful must it be to journey there one’s self, to stand on the very spot where Jesus preached and prayed, and to kneel upon that blood-stained garden of Gethsemane, in which He sweat that sacred sweat of blood. Now, this law of nature I would transfer to matters of grace. Let me tell you this day what I may concerning the acts of God’s goodness in the souls of His people, my description will be dulness itself compared with the glorious reality. Let me add another figure to render this truth yet more apparent. Suppose an eloquent foreigner, from a sunny clime, should endeavour to make you appreciate the fruits of his nation. He depicts them to you. He describes their luscious flavour, their cooling juice, their delicious sweetness; but how power less will be his oration, compared with your vivid remembrance, if you have yourself partaken of the dainties of his land. It is even so with the good things of God; describe them as we may, we cannot awaken in you the joy and delight that is felt by the man who lives upon them, who makes them his daily food, his manna from heaven, and his water from the rock.
I. The abstract of Christian experience.
1. Sometimes the Christian knows the love of God to him. I will mention two or three particular ways in which he knows it. Sometimes he knows it by seeing it. He goes to his house and he finds it stored with plenty--“his bread is given him, and his water is sure.” He is like Job; the Lord hath set a hedge about him, and all that he possesseth. Now, truly, he can say, “I know the love of God to me, for I can see it. I can see a gracious providence pouring forth out of the cornucopia of providence--an abundance of all that my soul can desire.” This, however, might not completely convince him of God’s love if it were not that he has also a consciousness that these things are not given him as husks are cast to swine, but they are bestowed on him as love tokens from a tender God. His ways please the Lord, and therefore He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. Another time in which he knows his Father’s love is, when he sees it after coming out of affliction. In the hour of languishing he cried to the Lord for deliverance; and at last he felt the young blood leaping through his veins anew. New health was restored to him, “The Lord hath heard my cry, like Hezekiah, and has lengthened my days. Now I know the love which God hath to me.” There are other ways in which God’s children know their Father’s love. Besides what they see there is something which they feel. Bitter though we sometimes think that our lives have been, yet have there been periods in them akin to heaven, when we could say, “If this is not glory it is next door to it. If I am not on the other side Jordan, at least my master is on this side of it.” Then could he say, “Now I know the love that God hath towards me.”
2. But times there are of thick darkness, when neither sun nor moon appear for many days; when the tempest rages exceedingly, and two seas meet in dread collision. At such a time, noble is the Christian who can say, “Now it may be I do not know the love that God hath to me, but I believe it.” The first position, that of knowing God’s love, is the sweetest, but that of believing God’s love, is the grandest. To feel God’s love is very precious, but to believe it when you do not feel it, is the noblest.
3. And now, do not these two states make up a summary of Christian experience? “We know and believe the love that God hath to us.” “Ah,” says one, “we have sometimes doubted it.” No, I will leave that. You may insert it in your confession, but I will not put it into my song. Confess your doubts, but write them not in this our psalm of praise. I am sure, in looking back, you will say, “Oh, how foolish I was ever to doubt a faithful and unchanging God!”
II. A summary of the believer’s testimony. Every Christian is to be a testifier. He is to be a witness with heart and lips. All the other creatures speak not with words. They may sing as they shine, but they cannot sing vocally. It is the believer’s part in the great chorus to lift up voice and heart at once, and as an intelligent, living, loving, learning witness, to testify to God.
1. In the first place we have known that God’s love to us is undeserved.
2. Another thing we can bear testimony to, is this--that the love of God is unconquerable. We strove against God’s love, but it conquered us.
3. We can say concerning His love that it has never been diminished by all the sins we have ever committed since we believed. We have often revolted, but we have never found Him unwilling to forgive.
4. We have known and we have believed the love of God to us to be perfectly immutable.
5. I will make but one other remark here, and that is, we can bear our willing witness that the love of God to us has been an unfailing support in all our trials.
III. This great truth is the groundwork of Christian encouragement. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Love is the most essential and the most characteristic of Christian virtues. He who lacks this scarcely deserves the name of Christian at all, while he who possesses this is on the way to possess all. When we ask why such stress is laid upon the importance of possessing this virtue above all others, more than one answer suggests itself to our minds. First, we may observe that some explanation is given in the words of this text. A loveless soul can never be a God like soul; for “God is love.” On the other hand, when we dwell in love, when it is, as it were, the element in which we live and move and have our being, we cannot remain altogether dissimilar to God, just because God is love. For love is one, whether it exists in Him or in us; and wherever it reigns it must needs produce similarity to Him who is its Divine Source. Yet another explanation of the importance assigned to love in the Christian economy is to be found in the fact that love is designed to supply the motive power in all truly Christian conduct and experience. For Christ looks at the quality even more than at the quantity of the work that we do for Him. A little offered as a love offering to Him is worth a great deal done merely because we think we ought to do it, or just because it is expected of us. Nay, we may go further. We may be moved by a feeling of interest in the work for its own sake; and yet there shall be little or no pleasure occasioned to the heart of God, just because the true motive has been wanting. When we ask why faith, not love, should be the condition of salvation, it is not difficult to give a reasonable answer, as we contemplate the two side by side, and notice the difference between them. Love, we observe, is a condition of our emotional nature, a state of passive consciousness, or a moral habit formed within the soul. Faith, on the other hand, is a definite moral attitude, voluntarily assumed towards a definite object as the result of our intellectual apprehension of the characteristics of that object. It follows from this that love cannot be directly induced by an act of our will, and that we are therefore only indirectly responsible for its possession. But it may occur to some to object: if we cannot directly produce love, how can we be responsible for having it? and how can God find fault with us, as He seems to do, if we have it not? If we cannot make ourselves love ore’ fellow man by trying, how can we force ourselves to love God? To this it may be replied, love is not so capricious as at first sight it might appear to be. It springs from a combination of causes, which, however, it frequently happens that we never think of stopping to analyse. When, however, we carefully look into the matter, we soon find that our love has owed its existence either to some definite cause, or, as is more frequently the case, to some combination of causes. Now these causes may be, to a consider able extent, under our control; we may either avoid their influence, or put ourselves in the way of being influenced by them; and here, of course, moral responsibility comes in. Admiration either of appearances, or of physical or intellectual or moral qualities, frequently has much to do with the genesis of love, and this admiration may extend to the smallest things; indeed, I believe that it is more frequently by little things than by great that it is usually elicited. Intimacy again may have much to do with the genesis of love. Gratitude, too, frequently induces affection. We love because we owe so much, and love seems the only way of repaying what we owe. There are, no doubt, many other causes which may contribute to produce love; such as sympathy, affinity of tastes, or disposition, or unity of interest; but, after all, nothing is so likely to cause love as love itself discovered to be pre-existent on the part of another. How often do we love because we find we are loved! How often does love, already supreme in our human heart, exert a species of irresistible fascination on the heart of another! Now it is clear that most of these various causes of love as existing amongst us men in our relations with each other, and as contributing to the genesis of a reciprocal affection, either exist in a much greater degree in the Divine Object than in any human being, or may be brought into existence as between us and Him. If we desire the Holy Spirit to work upon us efficiently in this respect, our wisdom lies in surrendering ourselves to His influence; and when we do He will always lead us up to the contemplation of those facts about the Divine Object and His relation to us, or to the apprehension of those experiences which tend to generate love. No gardener in the world can produce fruit; only the life within does that; yet how much does the fruit tree depend for its fruitfulness upon human skill! Man must see to it that the tree shall be planted where the sunshine can fall upon it, and the dew and the rain can water it. He must take care that it is not exposed to unduly trying conditions. And even so love, being a fruit of the Spirit of God, can only be produced by His presence and mighty operations within our nature; but though we cannot produce or manufacture it, still we are indirectly responsible for its production. The tree cannot cultivate itself, and here the figure fails us. Man, on the other hand, is a free agent, and therefore responsible for his own culture. It is not for us to attempt directly to induce this all-important fruit of the Spirit, but it is for us to see to it that we comply with the conditions of fruitfulness. Let us expose ourselves to the spiritual sunshine; let us live in the presence of God; let us see to it that we do not strike our roots down into earth, lest the cold clay of worldly mindedness check all our higher aspirations; let us guard against self-seeking and self-assertion; let us avoid exposing ourselves voluntarily to unfavourable influences as some Christians do, thinking more of worldly profit than of their spiritual interests; and let us cleanse off carefully the blight of impure thoughts and unholy desires, and then the Spirit of Love will be able to induce the fruit of love within our hearts. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him--
How then did Christ love us?
1. It is, as opposed to mere natural love, an all-embracing love, not swayed by feelings or emotions or preferences, but loving all who can be loved, all who may become such as can be loved, or in order that they may be loved.
2. True love must be a self-denying love.
3. True love, like the love of God, “seeks not its own.”
4. True love, like the love of God, must be ceaseless. That passing, capricious love, love and unlove, ebbing and flowing, laid dry because it has just seemed full, loving one and not another, grudging fresh acts of love because it has just shown what it thinks such, soon “wearied of well-doing,” such is not the love which reflects the love of God. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The love of God, as displayed in the economies of providence and grace
I. In the cares of his universal providence. In the exercise of the love of benevolence He has not only conferred existence on a great variety and number of creatures, but He has bestowed on them countless properties and advantages, to minister to their utility and their welfare. For us, the sun shines, the rain falls, the air breathes, the seasons change, the harvests ripen, and all nature seems put in requisition to minister to our well-being. This love is impartial; for our heavenly Father makes His sun to rise on the righteous and the wicked, the rain to descend on the just and unjust, and is kind to the unthankful and the evil. It is constant. “His mercies are new every morning and every evening,” and He crowns successive years with His goodness. It is universal. The bounties which flow from its exercise are dispensed to the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fishes which pass through the paths of the seas, and to the smallest insect which floats in the breeze, and the meanest reptile which creeps on the face of the earth. It will be perpetual. For we are assured that the ordinances of heaven and earth shall stand fast so long as the earth continues. “While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest.”
II. Is the merciful provisions of His grace. And this is the love of compassion. Look at this “love” in the gradual preparatives for the full development of its displays. See it in the first promise, which raised the prostrated hopes of our sinful pro genitors; in the numerous and expressive types which were to usher in the bright day of discovery; in the accurate and splendid predictions of that long line of holy men “who testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow.” At length the predicted time arrived for the full disclosures of the love of God to man. Does this close the exhibition of this scene of love? Did God give His Son to die the just for the unjust, to restore to us the favour which we had lost? Are we left to shift for ourselves as we passed through the wilderness of this world? “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” What innumerable blessings flow down to us, from the exaltation and the advocacy of the Saviour! How rich are the results of the communication of the Holy Spirit, with His gifts and graces! And what shall we say of Divine ordinances, which are the mediums, the organs of conveyance of all spiritual good, to the souls of men?
III. In the processes of His afflictive discipline.
1. The most painful trials of life have often proved the means of conversion.
2. The procedures of His disciplinary providence have contributed to sanctification. They have proved the means of repressing or of extirpating corruption from the heart. They have quickened in your bosom the spirit of prayer.
IV. In that home of rest and joy, which He has prepared for the reception of the family of His redeemed (Ecclesiastes 12:3-5). Happy, thrice happy they, who fall asleep in Jesus! (John Clayton.)
General and particular manifestation of the love of God
I. The declaration made concerning God himself, “God is love.” The Greek philosopher Aristotle defines love in this way, “The desire of anyone for whatsoever things a person supposes Co be good for his friend’s sake, but not for his own, and the procuring of those things for the person beloved according to one’s power.” This he conceives to be love. The theory is fine, as unquestionably were many of the notions found in the schools of philosophers, and in the shades of academical retirement; but a grand question meets us at the threshold of the inquiry, Where is to be found the individual who is the subject of this love? It is easy to give the definition, but where, in our fallen race, shall we discover an individual with his heart thus disinterestedly affectionate? But that which is not in man by nature, is found in God--“God is love.” He is the fountain from which love must have flowed wheresoever it is found. The very imposition of labour is a proof that God is love. A world of men and women unemployed, and with hearts so depraved, and characters altogether so alienated from the life of God as ours naturally are, would really be a hell upon earth, since men would have nothing to do except to torment one another. And what shall we say of the mystery of redemption--eternal redemption?
II. The peculiar cause why the redeemed of the earth, in particular, can bear witness to this truth, that God is love. What reason have we to believe, that instead of perishing with the majority, we shall be in the minority of those who are saved? No general declaration of God’s love will answer this purpose. We have known the love which God hath to us--it is not a matter of conjecture, but of demonstration: “We have known, we have believed the love that God hath to us.”
III. The specimen introduced of the character of those who have found God to be love. “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” And what do we behold in this declaration? First of all, the certain continuance of that spirit of love, whereby the Lord’s people are called. There is no fear of this love waxing cold and being dried up in the redeemed, when we know that they live in God by a life of faith, and that God by His Spirit lives in them. But farther, what do we behold in this declaration, “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him”? Why, the security of those souls who are thus distinguished by the love of God, and by being the temples of the Holy Ghost. They dwell in God, and God dwells in them. (W. Borrows, M. A.)
God embodied and manifested in infinite love to man
Did we only give credit to the text--did we but view God as “love”--there would be the translation into another character--there would instantly emerge a new heart and a new nature. For let us attend in the first place, to the original conception of humanity, constituted and placed as it now is, in reference to that great and invisible Being revealed unto us in the Scriptures. There are two reasons why we should conceive God to be so actuated as to inspire us with terror, or at least with distrust, instead of conceiving Him to be actuated by that love which the text ascribes to Him, and which were no sooner believed than it would set us at ease, and inspire us with delightful confidence in Him. The first of these reasons may be shortly stated thus: When ever we are placed within the reach of any being of imagined power, but withal of unknown purposes, that being is an object of dismay to us. If such, then, be the effect on human feelings of a power that is known, associated with purposes that are unknown, we are not to wonder that the great and invisible God is invested, in our eyes, with the imagery of terror. It is verily because He is great and at the same time invisible, that we so invest Him. It is precisely because the Being who has all the energies of nature at command is at the same time shrouded in mystery impenetrable, that we view Him as tremendous. But in what way could more palpable exhibition have been made of Him, than when the eternal Son, enshrined in humanity, stepped forth on the platform of visible things on the proclaimed errand “to seek and to save” us? But there is still another reason, and many may think, perhaps, a more substantial reason than the former, why, instead of viewing God as love, we should apprehend Him to be a God of severity and displeasure. It is not conjured up by fancy from a distant land of shadows, but drawn from the inferences of man’s own consciousness. The truth is, that by the constitution of humanity there is a law of right and wrong in every heart, which each possessor of that heart knows himself to have habitually violated. But more than this, along with the felt certainty of such a law there is the resistless apprehension of a lawgiver--of a God offended by the disobedience of His creatures, and because of which we are disquieted with the thought of a reckoning and a vengeance yet to come. Now as, in counteraction to our first reason for viewing God with apprehension, and thus, losing sight of Him as a God of love, we adduced one particular doctrine of Christianity, so, in counteraction to our second reason, we now adduce another peculiar doctrine of Christianity, and that by far the noblest and most precious of its articles. The one was the doctrine of the incarnation; the other is the doctrine of the atonement. By the former--the doctrine of the incarnation--a conquest has been made over the imaginations of ignorance; by the latter--the doctrine of the atonement--a conquest has been made over, not the imaginations, but the solid and well-grounded fears of guilt. By the one, or through the means of a Divine incarnation, we are told of Deity embodied, and thus the love of God has been made the subject, as it were, of ocular demonstration; by the other, or through the means of a Divine sacrifice, we are told of the Deity propitiated; and thus the love of God has been made to shine forth in the midst of the law’s sustained and vindicated honours. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a halo of all the attributes of God, and yet the preeminent manifestation there is of God as love; for it is love, not only rejoicing over all His works, but enshrined in full concentration, when shedding enhanced lustre over all, and amidst all, the perfections of the Divine nature. Before I leave this part of the subject, I should like, in as plain a way as possible, to meet a question which I consider of very great practical importance in Christianity. You may make out the demonstration that “God is love;” you may make that out as a general attribute; but then the question, in which each of us is personally interested, is to be asked still--How are we to be satisfied that this love of God is directed personally and individually to ourselves? Christ is set forth as “a propitiation for the sins of the world!” and “God so loved the world, as to send His Son into it.” Let me, therefore, who, beyond all doubt, am in “the world,” take the comfort of these gracious promulgations: for it is only if out of the world, or away from the world, that they do not belong to me. The blessings of the gospel are as accessible to all who will, as the water, or the air, or any of the cheap and common bounties of nature. The element of heavenly love is in as universal diffusion among the dwellings of men as the atmosphere which they breathe, and which solicits admittance at every door. This brings me to the third head of discourse. If we could only work this apprehension of God into your minds--if we could only prevail on you to believe that “God is love,” then it would have this effect on your feelings towards Him--the effect, in fact, of giving you altogether a different feeling with regard to God. It would be the instrument of completely regenerating you: by its giving you a different view of God you would acquire a different feeling with regard to Him; and it would, in fact, throw within the constitution of your soul the great master principle of all morality; and thus it is that it would be the elemental principle of what is called in the Bible regeneration. Faith would work by love. You would love the God who first loved you, and this low would yield all manner of obedience. In the first place, the way to call into your heart the love of God, and to keep it there, is to think on the love of God as manifested in the gospel, and to dwell upon the thought. It is only by thinking rightly, or believing rightly, that you can be made to feel rightly; and could we only prevail on you to dwell habitually, and with confidence, on God’s love to you, then should we feel ourselves on the sure highway to the result of your habitually loving Him back again. But, secondly and lastly, you will perceive from this the mighty importance of a free gospel, and of your so understanding it that you may embark upon it, each individual for himself, all your hopes and all your dependence. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Divine beneficence defended
A part from revelation there are, I conceive, two main evidences of the goodness of God. The one is to be found in the material universe, the other in the nature and capabilities of man. When man first begins to observe and reflect on the vast universe of which he forms a part, he can hardly fail to be struck with its order, its beauty, and its sublimity. But hardly has man formed to himself this grand conception of the unbounded power and the universal goodness of his Creator, before another aspect of the phenomena forces itself upon his attention. If on one side there is the fertile field or the smiling valley, on the other there is the howling wilderness or the raging sea. If here we find a man rejoicing in health and strength and prosperity, the happy peasant who has no wants which he cannot satisfy, the successful warrior, the gifted statesman, or the powerful monarch; there we find a man bowed down with disease, or sunk in misfortune, the captive in the hands of his enemies, the father bereft of his children, the beggar seeking his bread. How to account for this double aspect of nature and of human life has ever been one of the great problems which the curious intellect of man has set itself to solve. Is God really good, or is He a capricious Being, at one time dealing good and at another evil, selecting arbitrarily His friends and enemies, while He showers blessings on the one and inflicts vengeance on the other? “The wilder Bedouins,” says an Eastern traveller, “will inquire where Allah is to be found.” When asked the object of the question they will reply, “If the Eesa could but catch Him they would spear Him upon the spot,--who but He lays waste their houses, and kills their cattle and wives?” Others, in order to solve the difficulty, have imagined a coordinate, or almost coordinate Being, the author of evil, as God is the author of good; others, like the Platonists, believe that there are material obstacles which God can only partially overcome; whilst others, again, have supposed that God permits the existence of a subordinate but powerful spirit, who is engaged in marring the work which, as being of Divine origin, would otherwise be absolutely perfect. It may be of service to those who, amidst all the perplexities of modern speculation, would fain retain their hold on this fundamental principle of religious faith, the supreme goodness of God, if I attempt to point out certain considerations suggested to us by the study of nature and of human life which, amidst all our darkness and ignorance, may be regarded as, at least, indications of its truth. The question, then, is not whether evil is to be found in this world, for we cannot even conceive its absence, but whether, on a general survey of nature and life, good would seem to be, as it were, the rule, and evil the exception, or evil the rule and good the exception. Suppose, for a moment, the present constitution of things to be fixed, and let it be granted that the world proceeds from an omnipotent and intelligent Creator; the argument, as stated by Paley and others, that this omnipotent and intelligent Being is also a Being of infinite goodness, if not absolutely convincing, is, at least, one of very considerable force. There is much evil in the world. Granted; but good can only be understood by contrast with evil, and the good in the world, so far as we can make out, far counterbalances the evil. Those who, to the outside observer, seem to be subjected to the most cheerless and most sordid conditions, without, apparently, a ray of hope or of comfort, often, it is a matter of common remark, appear to cling to life with greater tenacity than those whom we deem the most prosperous. Even for them, therefore, life has its charms, and, whether they believe in a future world or not, at all events they are unwilling to quit this. Truly man has a marvellous power of adapting himself to the circumstances in which he is placed. Transport yourself, if it were possible, for a few hours, into the most unpromising position in human life, and you would probably find that it has its compensating advantages. A certain amount of happiness, in fact, seems invariably to result from the adaptation of the organism to the medium, whatever the organism and whatever the medium may be. Not only, therefore, do we probably vastly overestimate the amount of misery which there is in the world, but we are apt altogether to overlook the educating influences of pain. Let anyone think within himself of what a vast amount of enjoyment he would be deprived if his pleasures came unsought, if they supervened on no previous desire, want, or pain. Let him think, too, what he would have been in character and attainments if he had never had any obstacles to overcome, any difficulties to grapple with, or wants to gratify. Self-denial, temperance, patience, industry--where would these be if we had been created beings without wants, without the capacity of pain, without the necessity of effort? Sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, tenderness, all these finer traits of our nature, where would they be if there were no sufferings to be compassionated, no pains to be alleviated? Morality and intelligence alike, at least as they exist in man, seem to be the result of a long struggle with the powers of nature, of an unceasing effort to accommodate himself to the exigencies of his condition. But after all, it may be said, this is only a roseate view of human life and of the causes which determine it, a theory which prosperous men have not unnaturally framed in order to account for their own prosperity. Go into the stifling alleys of a crowded city, pass through the sordid dwellings, look at the haggard forms famishing for want of food, and then say whether you can believe in a moral government of the universe, in the existence of a God of love from whom all these men and women have their being, from whose original disposition of events the circumstances in which they are now placed have proceeded! Is it not a cruel mockery to tell such as these of the love of their Creator? If they believe in a God, will they not turn round and curse Him? No! Amongst the oppressed, the suffering, and the afflicted are often found those who have the most intense faith in the love of God. It is in their prosperity rather than their adversity that men forget their Maker. And do these men, as I have said before, cling to life with less tenacity than we do? For them too, then, life has some secret charm; they, too, have a power of adapting themselves to circumstances, and their existence is not all that dreary, cheerless waste which to us it seems to be. But, before we blame God for this mass of human suffering, and consider it an argument against His beneficence and love, shall we not do well to look more closely into its causes, to ask how far it is unavoidable and how far avoidable, how far it is due to the actions of laws of nature, whose effects we cannot escape, and how far to the wickedness, the carelessness, or the ignorance of man? That man should be able to determine his own actions and to influence his fellows is surely not a defect but an excellence in the constitution of human nature. But we, at least, in the present constitution of our faculties, cannot see how we can have this power without the possibility of exercising it for evil as well as for good. Here, then, we encounter the same difficulty as before. As in the individual it would seem as if there must be alternations of pleasure and pain, so in society it will seem as if there must be a mixture of good and evil, of suffering and enjoyment, of prosperity and adversity. But part of this evil and suffering we have said is avoidable, and part unavoidables--that is to say, part is due to man himself, and part to the inexorable forces of nature. Now, so far as man’s lot admits of being modified by himself, we find, if we take a sufficiently wide retrospect, that the improvement in his condition has been almost incalculable; in comfort and security, even in refinement and intelligence. The laws which govern the evolution of society seem, with some few exceptions not difficult to be accounted for, to have an invariable tendency to improve man’s condition. And if this has been the effect of advancing civilisation in the past, is there any reason to suppose that the process will be arrested in the future? May we not hope that, as the sympathies of men expand and their knowledge increases, many of the more glaring inequalities which now exist between man and man will be gradually removed? Of all the characters which God has stamped upon His creation, physical and human, none is more patent to our observation than the capacity of progress. Man has undoubtedly even still much evil to contend with, but this evil he has an almost indefinite power of diminishing, and by struggling with it his faculties are enlarged, his character is strengthened, and he is being gradually prepared (so by an irrepressible instinct we divine) for a sphere far transcending this in dignity, in freedom, in knowledge, and in love. (Prof. T. Fowler.)
God is love
God’s world might teach us hope--God’s Word alone can give us the immoveable certainty that He is love.
I. “God is love”--a truth unknown to the wisdom of the world.
1. One cause of the failure must be sought for in the spirituality and elevation of the idea itself.
2. In the scale of reason the question of God’s love must often seem a balanced one. Whatever love in God is, it is not a love which cannot both do and look upon things which are very terrible; it is not a love which is regardless of law; it is not a love which cannot punish.
3. The workings of an evil conscience.
II. God is love--a truth revealed and certified in Christ.
1. It is a love not out of harmony with the sterner aspects of God’s government, as seen in the world around us. There was a certain granitic sternness in the character of Christ, as well as soft and gentle words and smiles. And as for pain, think of the bitter Cross, and of God not sparing His own Son there.
2. The place to which the gospel raises love in the character of God. It identifies love with God’s essence, with the very root of His character and life. A pagan said, “When God was about to make the world He transformed Himself into love.” But the Christian gospel goes beyond this, and declares that God eternally is love.
3. The gospel is preeminently a revelation of God’s love to sinners. (J. Orr, B. D.)
God is love
“The idea which men have of God,” said a thoughtful writer, “is the most important of all influences on their religious character and tone of mind. They become as what they worship. If justice, Jews; if goodness, Christians. When men think of God chiefly as the Supreme Mind, they are philosophic; when chiefly as the Supreme Will, they are superstitious; regarding Him as a Sovereign, they strive to be His servants; as a Father, His sons.” We can feel the truth of this view.
I. It is inevitable that our main thought of God should colour our religious life, and through it our ordinary life among men. The quality of our service will differ with the relationship we bear to those we serve. If we are afraid of them, we shall be timid, scrupulous in all work which comes under their eye, and along with our dread we shall cherish a subtle dislike. If we expect to win something from them, we shall be ostentatious in little acts of exaggerated service, and we shall catch ourselves acting as though we were challenging attention to the quality or quantity of our service. If we love them, all timidity and artifice will pass away. Simplicity of feeling will help forward single mindedness of conduct. We shall serve with zeal, completeness, and trustworthiness because we love. It is true that love exercises a purifying influence over service. It is, therefore, no small influence for good upon the human character when the relationship between God and man is that of love. We do not render service to a taskmaster. We do not seek to be good out of fear, which means that we have no real love for good. We do not seek to be good for the sake of reward, for love’s service is given for love’s sake, and not for fee or gain. To know, therefore, that God is Love is to have in possession a thought and truth which, if we give it full play, tends to purify the dispositions, desires, and motives of our nature. The same thought may reach us in another way. God is love. God therefore desires for us the very best that can be. “Love worketh no ill to its neighbour,” said St. Paul. And Love worketh no ill to its children. Therefore God can only seek man’s highest good, and man’s highest good is in character. Wealth is only good in seeming, knowledge is only good in transition; but character abides. And this abiding good, called character, is the good which God desires for His children. Thus we reach the same thought--God who is Love seeks the purifying and elevation of our characters. To understand that God is Love, and to realise that His love seeks and must seek our highest good, and that this good is in our spiritual resemblance to God our Father, is to take hold of a principle which enlightens our eyes as we look out on life.
II. The enlightenment of life through love. It need not be denied that there are many enigmas in life. There are dark vicissitudes whose meaning we seek to penetrate. Who can understand why pain falls on the innocent, and, as it sometimes seems, the heaviest penalty on those who have not sinned the most? Who can explain why disease should descend from generation to generation? Two things need to be remembered, which, if they do not give answers to these hard questions, yet lift somewhat their burden.
1. Love must seek the highest good. The highest good is greatness, purity, goodness of character. The highest good is therefore spiritual, not physical, not intellectual. Now, the bulk of the difficult questions touch physical or intellectual problems. The ills that flesh is heir to and the mental perplexities awakened by strange questions press heaviest upon us. But meanwhile the opportunities of goodness, kindness, and truth lie at our door. It is not possible to escape the boundaries of the flesh or to break the bars of thought; but it is possible to cherish good and loving thoughts. Body and mind may complain that their scope is limited, but love’s hour is always present. Now, love’s scope is best seen in hours of trial and pain. Then the capricious and wayward woman becomes a ministering angel. Similarly the nobler qualities of character reveal themselves in hours of emergency and danger. Courage asserts itself in the hour of peril--on the battlefield and on the sinking deck; humanity and presence of mind in the midst of panic and risk--in the outbreaking of the fire or in the hospital ward. Does it not seem as though the finer aspects of character would have had little scope except in a world where pain and peril existed? Now these finer qualities do not appear only in moments of sudden heroism. They are sometimes and more often seen in the quiet fidelity and prolonged patience of love, in the ministry of devoted and self-denying lives. Lifelong tests are more severe, though perhaps not so brilliant, as momentary tests. And it is on fields like these that tenderness and pity and such high qualities have shown themselves. As stars on the background of the midnight sky, the higher qualities of human nature have been seen among the dark mysteries of life. When we remember, then, that dark things not only reveal but call forth the better and higher dispositions of man, may we not see that the burden of some perplexing problems is somewhat lightened? Love seeks the highest good, and therefore love sets out the field of life in such a sort that the best qualities of life may be called forth.
2. Love seeks the freest good. God, who loves freely, wants our love as freely in return. He therefore will not enforce our love or compel our faith. The possession of freedom is a responsibility which plays a part in human education. But freedom is not the same as immunity from conditions. When we play the game, we are free to play our own game, but according to the rules. Life is like a game of chess. We may move our pieces where we please, but each piece has its assigned move. Out of the combination of our freedom and the fixed powers of the men come our discipline and skill in playing the game. The laws of life are like the rules of the game. Break the chess rules and we only provoke disappointment. Break the laws of life and we only meet grief. It is no part of true love, therefore, to relax laws or alter rules in order to please our fancy. The character could not ripen save under clear and well-defined conditions which gave scope to freedom and yet checked caprice. Love which is weak and foolish tries to spare its children pain. Love which is wise and strong knows that experience must play a large, perhaps the largest, share in education. To check the education by experience is often to tamper with the freedom. The fulness of life’s lesson is not otherwise learned. And God, who is Love, leaves His children to learn through experience. His laws safeguard much and yet provide the sphere of education. It needs, however, an eye akin with God’s to perceive His will and His way. Then, when we perceive how love is at the back of all life’s discipline and pain, we are like those who have hold of the silver thread which leads through the labyrinth. We may not understand all, but we know that the thread of which we have hold will lead us to the heart of the mystery. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter)
God is love
I. By what right of reason do we say “god is love”? One only caution we must bear in mind, that in the very necessity of the case the terms we use are inadequate; they convey considerably less than the reality for which they stand. When we speak of the mind, will, or heart of God, we know all the while that the terms “mind,” “will,” and “heart” are to be understood in a sense infinitely higher than that in which we speak of the mind, will, and heart of man. With this caution, let us proceed at once to the consideration of the question, By what right of reason do we say that God is love? This is the last step of a climax of sound reasoning of which the following is an outline. Having granted the existence of a God, we infer some of His attributes from objects which we perceive, and which we call His “works.” These, for convenience, may be divided into two classes--the phenomena of the outer world and the phenomena of human nature. Both must be observed in order to form any approximately true conception of Him who is the cause of both. The observation of the outer world by itself, e.g., would furnish little if any conception of the moral attributes of God. All it teaches is the presence and activity of vast forces acting not in an irregular and chaotic, but in an orderly and steadfast manner according to fixed principles or laws. The recognition of these laws compels us to call their author intelligent, and to attribute to Him mind or reason. But how do we know anything about mind or reason except through the previous observation of a part of our own human nature? We first feel and know what reason, mind, or intelligence is in ourselves, and then we recognise it on a grander scale in the production, preservation, and control of the outer world. Thus we get hold of the first attribute of God--intelligence. Next we find in ourselves what we call the moral sense. This must not be confounded, as it too often is, with the list of duties to be done and of evil things to be not done. The conscience is the sense of being bound to do what we know or believe to be right, and not to do what we know to be wrong. This moral sense has been universally associated with the idea that our Creator or Divine Ruler is on the side of our consciences. Thus we arrive at once at the second attribute of God, viz., His righteousness. But here again we no more dream of limiting His righteousness to our small conceptions and experience of it than of limiting His intelligence to our small conceptions and experience of mind. If man is intelligent and moral, a fortiori God must be intelligent. The foregoing argument leads at once to the consideration of another and nobler feature in man’s nature, viz., his love. That this is a higher and nobler faculty than the reason, and even higher than the conscience, is universally admitted. Love is conscience in an ecstacy; it is a perfect enthusiasm of goodness, because it does not stop to reason with itself and to balance the pros and cons of right and wrong, but with eager bound rushes to its goal--the slave of inspiration. Conscience says, “Do this because it is right”; love says, “I will do this for you.” Among the faculties of man love holds the highest place. It is the instinct of doing the best possible good. While reason is our guide to what our duty is, and conscience is our authority for doing it, love leaps into the act without needing any sanction at all. I have, then, only to urge that as man is the noblest product known to us in the universe, and as love is the noblest part of man, so we must infer that God must be at least as loving as the most loving of men. Thus we reach a third attribute and say “God is love.” He may be, and to our adoring eyes of faith He surely is, far and high exalted above His noblest creature: but less than that He cannot be.
II. On what ground of experience have we any right to assume that there is any community of nature between our highest selves and God? The first and most obvious ground is the knowledge gained by experience that we are possessed of a two-fold nature, one the material, and the other, which, for want of a better term, we call the spiritual. Under the spiritual are of course included thought, conscience, and emotion. Possessing this spiritual nature as human beings we naturally believe in its likeness to, if not identity with, the nature of Him who is the Author and cause of all. The highest outcome of theological speculation is “God is a Spirit,” by which we mean emphatically to deny that He is matter and has dimensions and can be located in space; and emphatically to affirm that, like thought itself, He is distinct from matter and does not share its properties or limitations. God is Spirit and we are spirit too. But our ground of experience is wider and deeper still when we view the obvious purpose for which the spiritual part of our nature is given. That purpose includes the attainments of all kinds of knowledge--knowledge of the world outside of us, and knowledge of ourselves, and as a fruit of our honest search, a knowledge of God. We cannot avoid the conclusion that the faculty by which it is possible to perceive and understand a given law must be similar to the faculty by which the law was ordained. So by experience of scientific knowledge we prove some degree of community of nature between ourselves and the Author of the world around us. Much more do we discern this, when we go higher still in the range of our spiritual nature. I will not expatiate on the functions of conscience and of love which are spiritual faculties bestowed for the moral government of ourselves and of the race and for the supreme and noblest kind of happiness attainable on earth. In these regions of experience we discern the moral nature of Him who endowed us with a moral nature; and still more clearly and blissfully do we discern the Divine love, full of compassion and mercy, in the human love wherewith He has blest our own hearts. If we may with any reason ascribe to Him the faculty of knowledge, with much greater reason may we assure ourselves that He is infinite goodness and infinite love. (C. Voysey.)
The revealed Deity
There is a manner of Divinity in such a saying as this! It prepossesses the mind in favour of its supernal origin. And happy is it for us if such a statement as this--the very identification of the Godhead--fully agrees with our most fixed sentiments and easily coalesces with our most intimate feelings. For it is averse from all that man, left to his mere reason and arguing upon his naked information, ever entertained. Enter the Pagan temple, olden or extant. How merciless, how vindictive, how greedy of victims, how defiled with blood stains, are the idols of all! These are but the speculations we have formed of the Almighty Being who has made us. Our mind hates its own creations, but cannot paint them in any fairer hues. In opposition to these conjectures of an unconscious negligence and of a sanguinary malignity, God is love. And do you not feel the tender distinctiveness of this designation? It is not an appellative, it is not an epithet, it is not a quality. It is not only His name and His memorial. It is His nature! It is His being! It is Himself!
I. Love may be considered to subsist in the Divine nature under the following modifications.
1. Goodness. This is the disposition to communicate happiness. It displays its earliest effect in creating objects for itself. It calls into existence all whom it wills to bless. It adapts them to the means of enjoyment provided for them.
2. Complacency. This is the disposition which dwells in the mind of the Framer of all things to delight in whatever He has done. His works are great, and reflect back upon Him, in proportion to their kind and purpose, all His different perfections.
3. This Love not only includes goodness and complacency, but, as it now exists, and is now revealed, it takes the form of “the kindness and philanthropy of God our Saviour.” This supposes certain dispositions of favour towards sinful men.
(1) Forbearance. This is not security from punishment--it still is imminent and due--but such delay that, if it be improved, the punishment may be wholly averted.
(2) Grace. This opposes every idea of claim or worth in them to whom it is extended, regarding only their total demerit.
(3) Mercy. This contemplates simply moral obnoxiousness and liability, or guilt, meeting it with acts which may remove it, as also by influences that may subdue the depravity from which that exposure to punishment or that guilt could alone arise.
(4) Compassion. This concerns itself with the misery and ruin which sin entails, and furnishes, in the room of these evil consequences, peace and joy and hope, everlasting consolation and eternal life.
II. In dwelling upon Divine love in this order of its particular affections and operations, some important doctrines of Scripture must be maintained.
1. God is love, contemplated in Trinity. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us!” “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The love of the Spirit.” “He that sitteth on the throne.” “The Lamb in the midst of the throne.” “The seven-fold Spirit before the throne.”
2. God is love, regarded in Covenant. A purpose is revealed as reigning in the Uncreated Mind which supposes engagements and stipulations. The Father seals the Mediator. Jesus is sent. The Holy Ghost is given. There is inauguration into office. There is subordination of trust.
3. God is love, engaged in special redeeming acts. To save the sinner He has not only to will. An immense arrangement must be contrived and established to give that will efficiency. The redemption of the soul is most precious and most difficult. It can be saved, but merely because with God all things are possible. He only can save it by means absolutely infinite.
III. A necessary conception of Divine love is, that it is the love of God primarily to himself.
1. The original law illustrates this truth by presuming that He is love. For if this be “the first and great commandment, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” then those qualities are to be found in Him which should be thus esteemed.
2. All the Divine perfections resolve themselves into love. If God were not faithful, righteous, holy, He could not be love: for that cannot be love which must only provoke whatever is contrary to itself. We, therefore, knowing that God is love because tie is most holy, cry to Him, “How excellent is Thy loving kindness!” “How great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty!”
3. If God be love, He cannot introduce, nor act upon, any opposite principle. He is love in being the adversary of all that interrupts its exercise and diffusion.
4. The love of God cannot, therefore, be justly disputed if He leave unremitted the consequences of sin. To carry out a benevolent plan must be as benevolent as the plan itself. Any act of mercy, being extra-judicial, being of a different order from the case supposed, cannot enter into our present vindication of essential love.
IV. Let us now attempt to refute certain objections which are commonly raised against the theme of the text.
1. God was pleased to create man an intelligent and reasonable being.
2. God could not endow a creature with such mental gifts without including in them natural liberty.
3. God must, in the event of such a creation, hold the subject of it responsible for the exercise of his liberty.
4. God must, in rendering the creature accountable, promulgate a law.
5. God has so constituted us that we must always feel that we are free.
6. God can only treat the individual creature in agreement with the general welfare.
7. God has intimated to us that our planet dwelling does not include all His intelligent family, and that His system towards us is very imperfectly developed.
8. God may not be blamed for the consequences which He has forewarned, which are wilfully incurred, and which He has given His creatures the fullest liberty, and urged them by the strongest remonstrance, to avoid.
V. Let us now exhibit the monuments and demonstrations of this love. The love of God in the gift, the humanity, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, stands not apart from efficient results. There is no scheme of good but it avails to uphold and operates to secure. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
The heart of God
The nearest approach to a definition of the Deity is found in the sayings, “God is Spirit,” “God is Light,” “God is Love.” The last saying declares to us that, considered in relation to moral beings, God’s essential nature is love--that the Eternal has a heart, and is not without sensibilities and emotions. Thus God meets the deep yearnings of our hearts for a personal love to respond to our own. We must have “something to love, to clasp affection’s tendrils round.” If there were nothing in God to which our hearts could appeal, we should retire within ourselves and become encased in icy selfishness. A biting frost would wither our affections, and each soul would become like a barren tree, having but a starved existence in solitude and shade. Now, that we may know that in this case the wish is not father to the thought, let us listen while reason, Scripture, and experience utter their joint protest against the notion that God is without feeling. Reason compels us to conclude that all the love in the universe is Divine in its origin, and that He who is the source of love must Himself possess it. We are forced to think that, as the sap in branch and leaf has all flowed up from the roots, so all those streams of beautiful affection which redeem human life from barrenness have gushed warm from the heart of God. As the sea is the source from which every blade of grass gets its own drop of dew, and the thirsty earth gets refreshment through gentle rains, so all kindliness, generous impulses, beneficent ministries that gladden the parched and weary hearts of men, have their origin in that “ocean of love without bottom or shore,” which lies in the depths of the nature of God. As every ray of light that warms the atmosphere and makes the day beams from the face of the sun, so all the glow and beauty that are felt and seen in filial affection and the amenity of family life, in leal-hearted friendship and goodwill amongst men, are the reflection of the light of love that streams from our God in the sky. Some may, however, object that it is profane to speak of God’s love as a passion. But the text loses its charm if the word “love” does not mean in it what it means when applied to ourselves. Besides, let it be remembered that the passions are not in themselves sinful; it is the use they are put to, and the objects upon which they are expended, that determines whether or not they should be called sinful. Scripture shows that in God is a love which not only lives while it is reciprocated, but survives rebuffs, and it is not quenched by ingratitude. His is a love that “suffereth long and is kind, is not easily provoked, beareth all things, and never faileth.” Experience unites with reason and Scripture to emphasise the text. We have had many proofs that God is interested in our welfare, and feels intensely for us. There have been times when we have felt the rapture of living, and there were lyric poems within us struggling for expression. In such seasons the truth has been borne in upon us that our creation was an act of pure benevolence--an expression of the Creator’s love. And when the sunshine gave place to shade, and rapture to pain, our God caused us to nestle in His arms, and charmed our griefs to rest. (James T. East.)
The love of God revealed by Jesus Christ
There was a day in history when a man of genius discovered the law of attraction which connects the worlds. Through the unlimited course of ages that law had always existed, ever the same, ever unaltered, ever acting, before men had learned to spell its familiar formula. What attraction is in the physical world, such is the love of God in the moral world. God is immutable. God is love. He has ever been so. But there was a day when that love of God was revealed to mankind by Jesus Christ, and it is through Him alone that the world has known it.
I. The first feature of the love of Christ for man is its disinterestedness. It is not for Himself, but for them that He loves them.
II. I remark next that the love of Christ for man kind is void of illusion. He knew what the disciples were; nevertheless, such as they were, He loved them.
III. A third feature of the love of Christ for His own is faithfulness.
IV. The love of Jesus for His own is a sanctifying love. There are affections which weaken, enervate, and degrade the soul. Love is the most energetic auxiliary of the will.
V. The love of Christ is universal. The heart that beats in His breast is that of the High priest of mankind.
VI. And nevertheless, that universal love is at the same time an individual love. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
The love of God
All men believe in the existence of God. But what is God or what God is, is a question differently answered. As many words are substituted for the predicate as there are systems, if not men.
I. An explanation of the text. “God is love,” says John. John does not mean that love is the essence of Deity--the substratum of all His moral character; or that all the attributes of God are simply modifications of His love, as the different colours of the rainbow are simply modifications of the pure sunray, or as light itself and heat and sound are simply modifications of the same material element. He does not mean that God is love, to the exclusion of justice, holiness, or truth. I take the text to mean that the love of God is manifested in a most striking manner in the history of our world; but most of all in the subject which the apostle has been discussing--the salvation of the lost and sinful through the mediation of Christ.
II. A demonstration of its truth. The first development of individual character is thought. Thought ever precedes action, or a mental act is prior to a physical one. To understand, then, the Divine character, we are led first to the Divine thoughts or plans, and then to the Divine actions or the development of those plans. God’s actions may be momentary or continuous. The momentary is seen in creation, and the continuous in the government of the world or Providence. In all these various manifestations of the Divine character, we find evidence of the text, “God is love.” Consider, then--First: The plans or thoughts of God. God’s works were known to Him from eternity. He never had any need to plan or contrive. He ever knew what was best, how He should act, and what He should do, without any previous meditation or thought. We cannot see these thoughts or plans in the Divine mind; we see them as they are developed, in time. Secondly: The actions or works of God. What could have been the primary object which the Creator had in view in the works of creation? The replies to these questions are three--
(1) That God’s chief end in creation was the securing of His own glory. The great objection to this solution of the question is, that it exhibits the Divine Being as more selfish than many human creatures. Besides, this supposition exhibits God in a way in which He was not exhibited by Jesus. Our Saviour never did, or said, anything to show His own greatness as a purpose. But, granting that this was the chief purpose of creation, the showing of God’s glory, and the securing of His praise, it still follows that the works of nature must be a manifestation of His love. The glory of God is inseparably connected with His love. Take away the love of God, His disposition to make His creatures happy, and what does He become? Could any moral creature give Him praise? If the Divine Being had no love He could not care whether they were happy or miserable. He would thus regard pain and pleasure, happiness and misery, with indifference at least; or, maybe, identical. So that if the Governor of the universe be devoid of the attribute of love, He cannot be depended upon for the execution of justice; and a character in which justice and love form no essential elements cannot be esteemed glorious by any intelligent being. Glory and love are inseparably connected.
(2) Take the next view of the chief purpose of creation, viz., that it was to secure the exhibition of moral good, or the development of genuine virtue. The question then is, What is moral good--genuine virtue? It is justice, truth, holiness, love. Take away any, and you have destroyed the symmetry and beauty of the whole. Take away love, and a body without a soul is left behind. The glory has departed, and the very life is gone.
(3) The next supposition is that the chief end of creation was the production and supply of creature happiness. The Divine Being was so happy in Himself that He made this vast universe. A miserly, yet happy, being is an impossibility. A happy soul is necessarily communicative. But creation generally shows the love of God. It shines on every gleaming page. But the body, with all its senses, is only a means to an end. It is only the medium of conveying impressions to the mind within, and thus secure the development of the soul and the gradual expansion of its dormant powers. But as an instrument it is without its equal. Every change in the external world is faithfully conveyed to the mind within, and body and soul can participate in the joys and sorrows of each other. Every pleasure is thus doubled to man. He enjoys it first as to his body, his animal nature, and then as to his soul. Light and colour are pleasant to the eye, as sound is to the ear, as mere sensations in reference to the organisms which they affect, and apart from the perception of them by the intellect and the feeling of them by the heart. It is thus that the freshness of the gale and the fragrance of the flower can be enjoyed by the soul as perceptions as well as by the body as sensations. But look at the mind as an entity apart from its special relation to a material form. Mind! Is not this the glory of the universe, the image of God? The mind can study the material and the spiritual, the creature and the uncreated. Creation without mind is a body without soul, a dead form without vitality. Matter cannot think or study. One nebula cannot see the glory of another as it is resolved to its constituent stars. But mind can study all, and in all find pleasure and enjoyment. We are often told of the “verdant earth,” the “azure sky,” the thundering crash of the Niagara’s falls, the beautiful plains of Italy. Is this true information? The beast of the field sees not the beauty of the flower. Where is the difference? nature is the same to all. The beauty and the glory of all are in the soul that looks and feels and is enraptured. The mind of man has been so wonderfully constructed, too, that he can find true enjoyment in the moral and the religious, in holy living and in praising God, and that, too, when his day of earthly toil is ended, and the frail body which was so useful to him is mouldering in the dust. Government in every case implies two things--punishment and reward. God planned the world; He also made it and governs it. Let us consider them in order. First: That the love of God is manifested in the exercise of justice, or in the punishment of sin. It has been proved that where there is no love there can be no justice. Is it equally true that where there is no justice there cannot be love in its highest form? Partiality or favouritism, without reference to personal merit, is a mark of weakness, which is common in the human, but impossible in the Divine. True love, or love in its highest or Divine form, excludes all partiality. Men must be treated according to their actions. If the thief and the honest man, the murderer and the philanthropist, were all treated alike, I ask what would be the impression made upon the mind of any rational being? Would not every man took upon such a ruler with contempt, and turn from him with disgust? Apart from justice, goodness is impossible. If, therefore, the Supreme Ruler of the universe is to be respected by intelligent beings, and loved for His wisdom and moral excellence, He must vindicate the right and banish the evil-doer. The conclusion is evident, viz., that the love of God is as truly seen in the punishment of the wicked as in the salvation of the good, as truly in the pains of hell as in the joys of heaven. Secondly: That the love of God is manifested in the exercise of His mercy, or in the salvation of the godly. (Evan Lewis, B. A.)
He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God--
Dwelling in love
It is a very strong and eloquent term, “to dwell in love”--a home of love. And the promise of that home of love is more wonderful still--that God shall be our home. And then more stupendous beyond it--and we shall be God’s home. What is it to “dwell in love”? The first thing, it is quite clear, is that it must not be a mere negative state. It is not only that there be no dislikes, no variance. Love is a positive thing, showing itself in positive feelings, positive words, positive acts, without which a person cannot be said to “dwell in love.” Another eminent first principle is that the love which is here spoken of must include the love of souls. And, again, all love is one love, just as all light is one light. It is not love in God’s sense unless it be a reflection of God’s love to us. You must begin by being sure that there is no exception. We are not called to love all equally--our Lord Himself made distinctions in His love--but there should be no one who does not feel you friendly. The next thing to which the very language of the text leads us on is home. Our home should be a home of love. You must carry a word, a thought, a look of gentleness and cheerfulness and tenderness wherever you go. This may bring love into every room. All will feel it, consciously or unconsciously. It will create its own atmosphere. The Christ in you may make everything lovely. But there are other circumstances of life which every man has to occupy. There is the Church, and in the Church a communion--a blessed communion of hearts, visible and invisible; and to “dwell in love” is to go up and down continually conversant with that union of saints. And the world--the world about us--is a world which sadly needs our love. And you are called, and your privilege is to go about in the world an element of comfort. Therefore has God kindled a heavenly fire in your breast, that He may warm the world you live in! (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The soul dwelling in God
The words embody one of the manifold aspects of the Christian ideal. They suggest the inwardness and exaltation of Christian life.
1. The love, dwelling in which is one with dwelling in God, is not any love; it is not all that passes by the name of love: it is that love only which has been poured forth in Christ for the salvation of the world. Our readiest entrance into the experience of a soul meditating on that love will be to think of the soul as a disciple bending himself to the study of it, brooding over it as a vision from God, and telling his thoughts and admirations forth upon it daily. A young soul’s first admiration of a great book, a beautiful picture, or a heroic deed, draws all its thoughts towards that object. Far more is this the case with a mature soul’s admiration of some far-reaching principle in nature or art. It is a fascination. A great principle rises like an Alp to the clear heavens, and spreads itself in countless heights and hollows over the world of thought. It seems to become more and more fertile, more filled with springs and streams of new thought, more glorious with dawns and sunsets of vision and human hope, the oftener it is visited. Just in that way rises overhead and around the Christian soul the vision, the thought and memory of the love of God in Christ. It is a real home for the spirit, a real dwelling place for thought. It is joy, strength, and new life to let the feelings of the heart flock to it. The better it is known the more it is frequented by the meditating spirit. It is the spirit’s promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey, where the King of the spirit is to be seen in His beauty.
2. But the love in which in this way the soul finds a home is much more than an object of thought; it is life, power, law as well; it is the life that stirs at the heart of Providence, the power that causes all things to work together for good, the unseen law behind events, which Christian faith searches for, and in which at last, in sunshine or cloud, it rests. In this very way the Divine love reveals itself to us. It is a shelter within which the soul finds safety. In this sacred enclosure all things work together for good: even things evil do not come to us with power to hurt. Nothing can hurt or destroy in the fastnesses where love dwells, not even sin itself.
3. But now we have come to that step in the ascent of our inquiry at which we are face to face with the wonder we have been preparing from the outset to understand. It is not enough to know that a soul, by meditation and trust, can dwell in love: how should its dwelling in love be at the same time a dwelling in God? And in what practical sense are we to receive the statement that a soul dwells in God? The love of God in which the Christian spirit dwells is not an impersonal thing. It is the very life of God, the very outflow of His personality. Love is the life of God in the same sense that a mother’s love is the outflow of a mother’s life. And it depends as much on its being the outflow of a living person as a mother’s love does. Love is not only the element in which God works, but what works in that element is love. The motives, acts, and purposes of the Divine life are love. Wherever love is, God is; wherever God is, He manifests Himself by love. The world we think of and enter when we take refuge in the love of God is a world in which everything is of God, a world whose inhabitants live and move and have their being in God. What breathes in the government, What pulses in its acts, what is expressed in its laws, is the very life of God. It is this which makes the Divine love so fitting a home for spiritual thought and a refuge for spiritual anxiety. The beauty we behold in the love is the very beauty of God: the strong fortress we flee to is God Himself. The everlasting arms to which the soul confides itself are the arms of God.
4. But now, having ascended this third step, and being face to face with the fact that our life is a life in God, that, in the most vital sense, we are encompassed by God, we are like timid people who find themselves for the first time on the ridge of a mighty mountain; we tremble, we are afraid to remain in the position, we shrink from the transcendent vision. Is it an ideal from everyday life--for life’s duties, burdens, sorrows? Or is it a dream far above us--a cloudland, mocking us with its gorgeous colours? I can best reply to these questions by recalling two or three facts familiar to our Christian life. And first of all this, that the life we are called to imitate was the fulfilment of this very ideal. Christ dwelt in God. I will take two qualities of His human life--the qualities of insight and power--and I will show you in their exercise the contact and influence of the life of God. Christ’s insight is a great manifestation of a human life dwelling in God. He not only saw as God sees, but what He saw was God. He saw the possibilities of better life, the gleams of the buried image of God, the ruins of the once glorious temple of the soul, the witnesses at once of the glory from which the souls He had to address had fallen and of the life to which they might yet be brought back. The same manifestation of a human life dwelling in God is to be discovered in Christ’s exercise of power. It was to foreshadow the great future awaiting our race, as much as to reveal God, that His miracles were wrought. In the light of this fact we see at once how the life from which they proceeded must have been first of all a human life, and next a human life in God. The hand which touched the blind to sight was human, but it would have been powerless if it had not moved in the stream of the power of God. The words of tenderness spoken to the healed were from human lips; but the love which informed them, and the life by which they had power to heal, were Divine.
5. I observe next that the elements in Christ’s life which reveal this dwelling of the soul in God are present, however dimly, in all Christian life. Let us take the element of insight first. A Christian eye, like the Master’s, sees possibilities of penitence, of well-doing, and salvation in outcasts, heathen people, and embruted slaves, in whom other eyes see nothing but material for wrath and scorn. Better still, this eye sees Christ in every human being. As with insight so with power. We are set to subdue the evil which is in the world. In what way, other than by the descent of Divine power through the life which God’s people live, can this evil be subdued, and the wide kingdom it usurps be reclaimed to God? In this work our action at every step must be miraculous, for it is the going forth from us of an influence absolutely invisible and spiritual, whose force to be effective must be the force of God.
6. The soul who is dwelling in love is, up to the measure of his indwelling, already in possession of the future. The blessedness which awaits us in the future is but the unfolding of the present life of the soul. It will be happiness then to dwell in the memory of Christ’s love, to think of its sacrifices, its beautiful unfoldings, and its mighty victories. But just that is our happiness, as redeemed creatures, now. The gladness of a life redeemed is the first fruits of the fuller gladness of heaven. The spiritual insights to which dwelling in love admits us are foregleams of the vision we shall behold in heaven. The Christian activities, tendernesses, and mercies to which love impels us, are earnests of the as yet unimaginable activities and tendernesses of the world to come. The very form of our earthly experience is a suggestion and type of the experience of the future. It is a dwelling in God here: it will be a dwelling in God there. I must not conclude without saying that it is only one half of a two-fold mystery I have attempted to set before you. The other and still greater half I do not attempt to describe. Who, indeed, is sufficient to tell how God enters into us and dwells in us? But this much ought to be said, that the two parts of the mystery are but one in experience. No soul can dwell in love into whom first the Holy Spirit has not descended bringing the love. (A. Macleod, D. D.)
At home in God’s love
To “dwell” in love--what is this? What but to make it our element, to reside in it, to make it our permanent resting place, to make it our home. Home is the place where we dwell, where we abide, where our joys nestle and sing, where the springs of our comfort are. There is the place, No. 48 in such a street. To another man who passes by, it is simply a house; to us it is home. We make many journeys from it, north, south, east, west; but we always return home. We hurry thither when the cold storm beats on us, and we run with as quick steps when we have some joy to tell of. How well we know that iron gate, that step, that door!--it is our home. Now let us grasp a great truth. You, Christians, are to make your home in the love of God, to live in it as your element, to abide in it as your rest, to dwell in it as the home of your soul. Mark, “in the love of God”: not the dread--you have done with that now you are His children; not the fear, though God is greatly to be feared, and that fear of God is to be ever before your eyes; not the favour, though that is your glorious heritage now; but the love, the love. (I. E. Page.)
Fellowship with God begets love
We must be like God--all love--love to those who have hurt us--love even to our enemies. How can we grow like God? By thinking of Him, and keeping near Him, and listening to Him, and talking to Him. Why does the sea shine in the sun? Because it is shone upon. The little hare turns white when it is taken to the arctic regions and lives in the snow. We must live in God’s love. Love is the reflection of God. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Living in love
It is said that all organic germs cease a few miles out at sea. Air taken from the streets or the warehouse of the city yields large numbers of these germs. The air circulating through the ship in dock is charged with them. After the shore has been left behind, the air taken from the deck is pure; but they are still found in air taken from the hold. After a few days at sea the air on deck and in the hold alike yields no trace of these microscopic spores that are closely connected with disease. Let us be ever breathing the spirit of God’s love. Let us get away from the din and dust and turmoil of life, out upon that infinite sea of love that is without length or breadth or depth, and our worst faults will vanish away, and we shall by and by stand without offence in the presence of God’s glory. (T. G. Selby.)
God in us and we in Him
How, it may be asked, can Christ be in us, and we, at the same time, be in Him? An infidel once attempted to embarrass an unlettered but very intelligent coloured man by putting to him this very question. The reply of the coloured man was amusing, but very impressive and pertinent. “Well, dat are,” he replied, “don’t trouble me. You take dat are poker and put it in de fire. In a little while de fire will be in de poker, and de poker in de fire.” (Asa Mahan, D. D.)
Dwelling in love
I could not tell what was the matter with my beautiful fern that had hung on my window and grown so beautifully all the season. The leaves were drying and turning white. I took it down, and to my great surprise found that the soil had been all washed from the roots. It had actually nothing to grow in. I immediately procured fresh soil, and while pressing it to the bare roots I thought how easily the soil may get washed away from the roots of our spiritual being. A human heart must have soil to grow in, and that soil is love. Paul prayed that he might be rooted and grounded in love. Now, life may have washed from you that which you felt you needed--human love--and you may feel that you are bare; but there is abundance of soil in the love of God for you to grow in. Some of the grandest plants in God’s conservatory have no other soil. And nothing can wash God’s love away. (Mrs. M. Bottome.)
1 John 4:17
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of Judgment
The perfection of love
“Herein is our love made perfect.” Love is like every other grace in the Christian bosom, susceptible of various degrees of intensity. It is our duty to aim at perfection in all things, and eminently in love. Our happiness is bound up in our attainment of it. Just as we advance in this grace we secure our growing peace and prosperity.
II. A blessed effect of evidence of such love. “That we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” What are we to understand by the day of judgment? We are certainly not to exclude from our thoughts days of trial, such as may come upon us in the course of life, or at death. Nor can we doubt that the perfection of love would greatly contribute to our boldness at such times. But the mind of the apostle is manifestly directed to the final judgment. In that dread hour they who have cultivated the grace of love shall be enabled to meet it with boldness. How so? This boldness cannot be said to arise out of love as the reason or ground of it. Were it so viewed, its deficiencies would fill us with terror and cover us with confusion. Neither our love nor any other grace can be pleaded for our acceptance at the bar of God. Yet there is an important sense in which boldness in the day of judgment is dependent on the cultivation of love. As love is cultivated, the evidence of our union with Christ is manifested.
III. How may love be so exercised and advanced as to lead us into this holy and happy boldness? “Because as He is, so are we in this world.” It is by studying conformity to Christ our love is strengthened, and the evidence of our union with Him is made clear.
IV. The argument by which the apostle confirms and illustrates his views (1 John 4:18).
1. The nature of love--“There is no fear in love.”
2. More strongly the same view is presented in the operation of love--“perfect love casteth out fear.”
3. This view is farther confirmed by the very nature of fear. “Fear hath torment.” We avoid the person whom we fear.
4. Finally, the operation of fear is to destroy love. “He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” How powerful, then, is this argument for the cultivation of love. Would we be happy in God now, and would we meet Him at last with joy? Then let us love Him. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
1. Love is capable of many degrees; it is the same principle in its commencement as in its termination, the difference being not in the quality, but in the amount; and this must be ever borne in mind in our dealing with inquiring and awakened souls. The weak and just commencing child of God should not be cast down and believe that because he is imperfect in love he therefore has no love. In estimating of the condition of men’s minds with regard to the degree of love which they possess, we take many things into account. There are some upon whom the consciousness of Christ’s sacrifice comes with such tremendous power that they are melted and subdued at once, and withal attracted to the One who displayed such wondrous love toward them. There are others who have attained this consciousness by slow degrees, and so gradually become acquainted with their Lord that from the very gentleness of the way in which they have been led on, they themselves realise more the simple fact that they love than that they are made to love. There are some who have naturally unloving hearts to be changed, and some who have loving hearts to be consecrated; and the processes of God’s actings are so different, and hearts are so varied in their constitution that we can scarce expect to find any two exactly alike. Be encouraged, but be not satisfied, ye who find some love within yourselves; pray and strive for an increase.
2. Love, then, may exist in different degrees; it is further capable of high attainment. Can anyone amongst us produce a reason why he should not be enabled to love as much as Peter, Paul, or John? Can anyone show us anything so supremely bad in his own natural disposition, or so supremely good in that of these apostles, that it is a moral impossibility that he can ever do as they did? or can any prove that the actings of the Spirit are more limited in our case than they were in theirs, and that assistances were given to them which by God’s decrees are withheld from us? There lies before you a glorious course, if only you will run upon it; a magnificent possession, if only you will lay hold of it; an exquisite state, if only you will enter on it. Allow yourselves to be carried on by the Spirit.
3. Thus we see that love may be of different degrees, and also that it is capable of high attainment; we would observe further that it is able to produce a great result. The songs of poets, the tales of real life, the stern records of history, are all full of the triumphs of love; and fallen though we be, love has won more victories than all else beside. When love is true, it is impregnable by assault, it is irresistible in attack, it is indestructible by time; it is not spent by its efforts, it is not wearied out by its vigils; firm in its grasp, yet tender in its touch, that which it lays hold of escapes not from it, that which it caresses is not injured by it. Love is a watcher and love is a warrior--love is a servant and love is a king. True love in things spiritual as well as in things temporal is omnipotent; he who loves most will believe most, and in his faith and love will win the highest goal. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
The triumph of Christ-like love
I. The description of spiritual attainment. “Herein is our love made perfect.” None can doubt that being as the Son of God is in this world is the only possible perfection, and the only ground of “boldness in the day of judgment.” The text shows--First. An attainment of affection to God. God wins our hearts by His love; we then love Him more and more. Secondly. An attainment of complete affection to God. In this asserted perfection of our love there is clearly a recognition of the supremacy of our affection.
II. The adduced evidence of that attainment. “Because,” etc. This clause seems to belong both to our being made perfect in love and our having boldness in the day of judgment. First. The meekness of Christ is reproduced in His followers. Secondly. The endurance of Christ characterises Christians. “Who endureth such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” Thirdly. The truth witnessing of Christ is seen in His disciples. “I am the truth.”
III. The divine design in our evidenced attainment in Christ-like love. “That we may have boldness,” etc. First: This is not an evil boldness, or a boldness in evil (Ecclesiastes 8:1). It is not--
(1) the boldness of ignorance;
(2) the boldness of self-sufficiency;
(3) the boldness of iniquity;
(4) the boldness of presumption.
Secondly. This is a holy boldness (Hebrews 10:19). It is--
(1) The boldness of fearlessness. “Perfect love casteth out fear.”
(2) The boldness of approving conscience. “It is God that justifieth.” St. Paul was bold in chains, because the Divine Judge approved him.
(3) The boldness of perfect sympathy and unity with the Judge. “He that confesseth Me,” etc. (Homilist.)
Boldness in the day of judgment
I. Examine the general conception of “the day of the judgment,” as given in the New Testament. But against one somewhat widely spread way of blotting the day of judgment from the calendar of the future--so far as believers are concerned--we should be on our guard. Some good men think themselves entitled to reason thus: “I am a Christian. I shall be an assessor in the judgment. For me there is therefore no judgment day.” The only appeal to Scripture which such persons make, with any show of plausibility, is contained in an exposition of our Lord’s teaching in John 5:21; John 5:29. But clearly there are three resurrection scenes which may be discriminated in those words. The first is spiritual, a present awakening of dead souls, in those with whom the Son of Man is brought into contact in His earthly ministry. The second is a department of the same spiritual resurrection. The Son of God, with that mysterious gift of life in Himself, has within Him a perpetual spring of rejuvenescence for a faded and dying world. A renewal of hearts is in process during all the days of time, a passage for soul after soul out of death into life. The third scene is the general resurrection and general judgment. The first was the resurrection of comparatively few; the second of many; the third of all.
1. General history points to a general judgment. If there is no such judgment to come, then there is no one definite moral purpose in human society. Progress would be a melancholy word, deceptive appearance, a stream that has no issue, a road that leads nowhere.
2. If there is to be no day of the general judgment, then the million prophecies of conscience will be belied, and our nature prove to be mendacious to its very roots.
II. The removal of that terror which accompanies the conception of the day of judgment, and of the sole means of that emancipation which St. John recognises. For terror there is in every point of the repeated descriptions of Scripture--in the surroundings, in the summons, in the tribunal, in the trial, in one of the two sentences. “Boldness!” It is the splendid word which denotes the citizen’s right of free speech, the masculine privilege of courageous liberty. It is the tender word which expresses the child’s unhesitating confidence, in “saying all out” to the parent. The ground of the boldness is conformity to Christ. Because “as He is,” with that vivid idealising sense, frequent in St. John when he uses it of our Lord--“as He is,” delineated in the fourth Gospel, seen by “the eye of the heart” with constant reverence in the soul, with adoring wonder in heaven, perfectly true, pure, and righteous--“even so” (not, of course, with any equality in degree to that consummate idea, but with a likeness ever growing, an aspiration ever advancing)--“so are we in this world,” purifying ourselves as He is pure. (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
Because as He is, so are we in this world--
Christ’s poverty in relation to our selfishness and luxury
It is too common to fix our thoughts almost exclusively on the Redeemer’s death, and to leave out of sight the nature and tenor of the life preceding. St. John gives us a corrective of this view. He says that in those who will not be afraid to meet Christ when He appears on His judgment throne, the spirit, character, and habit that belong to Jesus now in glory, as they belonged to Him when on earth, shall be in them. The outward manner of His life, the kind of circumstance which clothed Him here cannot, of course, be reproduced, but the way in which He behaved under those circumstances, the disposition with which He met them, must mark everyone of His disciples--“as He is, so are we in this world.” Now, Christ’s earthly life was distinctly one of poverty. House or property of His own He had none. Now, if our Lord’s poverty encourage the poor and the poor family to struggle against the lowering influence of their lot, to keep themselves respectable and orderly, consider with what earnest pleadings it seems to address all richer folk, especially in an age like our own. Society is fastidious and extravagant. Entertainments are reckoned, not by the pleasure which they are calculated to give, but by their variety and costliness. Turn upon these aspects of our modern civilisation the light of Jesus’ life in that noble endurance of poverty, that abiding sense of the real value of life, which consisteth not in the abundance of the goods which a man possesseth, that unswerving devotion to His Father’s will which constituted His very meat. His example may yet prove our safety, if we will follow it. (D. Trinder, M. A.)
The servant as his Lord
The connection of my text is quite as striking as its substance. John has been dwelling upon his favourite thought that to abide in love is abiding in God, and God in us. And then he goes on to say that “Herein”--that is, in such mutual abiding in love--“is love made perfect with us.”
I. A Christian is Christ’s living likeness. It is the Christ as He is, and not only--true as that is--the Christ as He was, who is the original of which Christian men are copies. Is there anything, then, within the glory to which I, in my poor, struggling, imperfect life here on earth, can feel that my character is being shaped? Surely there is. I have no doubt that, in the words of my text, the apostle is remembering the solemn words of our Lord’s high priestly prayer, “I in Thee, and Thou in Me, that they also may be in us.” Or, to put the whole thing into plainer words, it is the religious and the moral aspects of Christ’s being, and not any one particular detail thereof. And these, as they live and reign on the throne, just as truly as these, as they suffered and wept upon earth, it is these to which it is our destiny to be conformed. We are like Him, if we are His, in this, that we are joined to God, that we hold fellowship with Him, that our lives are all permeated with the Divine. And thus “we,” even here, “bear the image of the heavenly, as we have borne the images of the earthly.” But, then, I have another point that I desire to refer to. I have put an emphasis upon the “is” instead of the “was,” as it applies to Jesus Christ. I would further put an emphasis upon the “are,” as it applies to us--“so are we.” John is not exhorting, he is affirming. He is not saying what Christian men ought to strive to be, but he is saying what all Christian men, by virtue of their Christian character, are. Or, to put it into other words, likeness to the Master is certain. It is inevitably involved in the relation which a Christian man bears to the Lord. My text suggests that to us by its addition, “So are we, in this world.” The “world”--or to use the modern phraseology, “the environment”--conditions the resemblance. As far as it is possible for a thing encompassed with dust and ashes to resemble the radiant sun in the heavens, so far is the resemblance carried here. Now, you Christian people, does that plain statement touch you anywhere? “So are we.” Well! you would be quite easy if John had said, “So may we be; so should we be; so shall we be.” But what about the “so are we”? What a ghastly contradiction the lives of multitudes of professing Christians are to that plain statement! The world has for the illustrations of the gospel the lives of us Christian people. In the Book there are principles and facts, and readers should be able to turn the page and see all pictured in us. That is what you have got to do in this world. “As the Father sent Me, even so I send you.” “As He is, so are we in this world.” It may be our antagonist, but it is our sphere, and its presence is necessary to evoke our characters. Christ has entrusted His reputation, His honour, to us.
II. Such likeness to Jesus Christ is the only thing that will enable a man to lift up his head in the day of judgment. “We have boldness,” says John, because “as He is, so are we.” Now, that is a very strong statement of a truth that popular evangelical theology has far too much obscured. People talk about being, at the last, accepted in the beloved. It is true! But do not let us forget the other side, that the question put to every man will be, not what you believe, but what did you do, and what are you? And I want to lay that upon your hearts, because many of us are too apt to forget it, that whilst unquestionably the beginning of the salvation, and the condition of forgiveness here, and of acceptance hereafter, is laid in trust in Jesus Christ, that trust is sure to work out a character which is in conformity with His requirements and moulded after the likeness of Himself. The judgment of God is according to the truth, and what a man is determines where a man shall be, and what he shall receive through all eternity.
III. The process by which this likeness is secured. Our love is made perfect by dwelling in God, and God in us; in order that we may be thus conformed to Christ’s likeness, and so have boldness in that great day. To be like Jesus Christ, what is needed is that we love Him, and that we keep in touch with Him. But remember such abiding is no idle waiting, no passive confidence. It is full of energy, full of suppression, when necessary, of what is contrary to your truest self; and full of strenuous cultivation of that which is in accord with the will of the Father. Lie in the light, and you will become light. Abide in Christ, and you will get like Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment
The place of fear in the gospel
Some readers of the Bible, some preachers of the gospel, have thought that fear was a dangerous, was even a forbidden principle, under the dispensation of the fulness of times.
This is a hasty inference. Our Lord says, “Fear Him which, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell.” St. Paul says, “Work out their own salvation with fear and trembling”; and St. Peter commends a “chaste conversation coupled with fear”; and even St. John, who speaks of “perfect love casting out fear,” yet uses this, in the Revelation, as a description of the faithful--“them that fear Thy name.” Fear has a place in the gospel, may we but find it. Indeed it is an old remark, that every natural principle of our mind has an object assigned to it--is not to be crushed, only to be redirected. Fear is not the whole of religion. Some Christian people have made it so, and suffered greatly in consequence. But in these cases we may hope that there is a blessed surprise of love in store for souls which here lived too much in the darkness of mistrust and self-suspicion. As they emerge out of that thick gloom which we call life into a world where there is neither puzzle of intellect, nor oppression of the world, nor assault of the devil, they learn, as in a moment, how much better God was to them than they felt or saw. How shall it be with another class--with those who have banished fear altogether from their religion, not by that perfecting of love which St. John speaks of, but by a refusal to read anything in their gospel but that which was instantly bright, indiscriminately alluring? If now we try to grapple closely with the very question itself, What is the place of fear in the gospel? we must begin by guarding ourselves against one great confusion. The object of fear may be either a thing or a person.
1. We fear a thing which, being possible, is also undesirable or dreadful. Our own Prayer Book, commenting in the catechism upon the Lord’s Prayer, bids us call three things evil:
(1) Sin and wickedness;
(2) Our ghostly enemy;
(3) Everlasting death.
2. There is a fear also of persons. In some respects nearly allied to the other--as where we dread the arrival of a judge who is to try us, and whose sentence must certainly bring after it imprisonment or execution. There it is scarcely the person--it is simply the instrument of the thing--which is really the object of the fear. The fear of God as a Person is essentially of a higher order. To feel that there is One above me, to whom I am accountable, if it be but as my Judge, there is something elevating in the very conception. But this, if it stop here, is the religion of fallen nature; it is scarcely the religion even of law--for the law itself gave many glimpses of a Divine heart that could feel and a Divine grace that could comfort. This mere dread, though it is a higher thing than indifference, is no part of the gospel. From this kind of fear the convinced man, if he yields himself to Christ’s teaching, will pass on into a higher. And it is in reference to this step that there is the greatest need of Christian guidance. We do not speak of a spirit of bondage, making a man crouch before God as his stern taskmaster. Not of a life of toilsome, unloving labour, which hopes in the end to make God its debtor. There is no trace of gospel fear in all this. But that humble, filial reverence, which never forgets or slights the distance between the Creator and the creature which exercises itself day by day “to have always a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward man”--this is a Christian grace: if there be yet one higher, it must be sought, not in the abandonment, but in the strengthening of this. When a man has lived for long years in the pursuit of God--when he has brought his life by daily self-discipline into a condition of habitual watchfulness--then, as the fear of falling away becomes less predominant, there takes its place, by little and little, that absolute oneness of will with the will of God, of which it has been boldly yet beautifully written that then, then at length, self-indulgence itself may become a virtue. In that man fear has indeed been cast out, not by carelessness, but by love; in him, at last, as God’s free gift to a life of godly reverence, “in him verily is the love of God perfected.” (Dean Vaughan.)
Love and fear
I. The apostle here contemplates a universal dominion of fear, wherever there is not the presence of active love. Of course, he is speaking about the emotions which men cherish with regard to God. All men everywhere have some more or less faint or clear conviction of the existence of a God. All men everywhere have some more or less active or torpid working of conscience. Blend together these two things, and take into account that the fact of sin necessarily brings about much ignorance of the true character of Him whom the consciousness of sin arrays in awful attributes of holiness and justice; and there follows inevitably, universally, though not always with equal strength and prominence, this feeling towards God, I knew Thee that thou wert austere, and I was afraid. The truth of this representation of the universal dominion of fear is not made in the least degree doubtful by the fact that the ordinary condition of men is not one of active dread of God. There is nothing more striking than that strange power that a man has of refusing to think of a subject because he knows that to think of it would be torture and terror. Heathenism is, to a large extent, the offspring of fear. All thoughts of sacrifice as propitiating an offended God come from that dark and coiling fear which lurks in the heart. And it affects so called Christianity too. There are plenty of people who call themselves Christians whose whole religion consists in deprecating the wrath of God, whom they dimly think of as angry with them, and who, their consciences tell them, might well be so! Sometimes, again, this same fear takes the understanding into its pay, and appears as enlightened disbelief in God and immortality. The brain is often bribed by the conscience, and the wish becomes the father of the thought. Sometimes it takes the shape of vehement efforts to get rid of unwelcome thought by fierce plunging into business, or into wild riot.
II. The fearlessness of love--how “perfect love” casts out fear. Love is no weak thing, no mere sentiment. It is the harvest of all human emotions. It makes heroes as its natural work. The love of God is declared in this text to be the victorious antagonist of that fear of sin which has torment in it. In general we can see, I think, without difficulty, how the two, love and fear, do exclude one another. Fear is entirely based on a consideration of some possible personal evil consequence coming down upon me from that clear sky above me. Love is based upon the forgetfulness of self altogether. The very essence of love is, that it looks away from itself, and to another. Fill the heart with love, and there is an end to the dominion of fear!
1. But, more specifically, the love of God entering into a man’s heart destroys all fear of Him of which we have been speaking. All the attributes of God come to be on our side. He that loves has the whole Godhead for him. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” There is no foundation for my love to God except only the old one, “God loves me.” There is no way of building on that foundation except only the old one, We believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Saviour of the world! The love which casts out fear is not a vague emotion setting towards an unknown God; nor is it the result of a man’s willing that he will put away from himself his hatred and his indifference, and will set himself in a new position towards God and His mercy; but it rises in the heart as a consequence of knowing and believing the love which God hath to us. Hence, again, it is the conqueror of fear. Whatever betide, nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are bound to Him by that everlasting loving kindness with which He has drawn us. There is lifted off the heart the whole burden of “fearful looking for of judgment,” the whole burden arising from the dark thought, God is mighty, God must be righteous, God may strike!--because we know “He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
2. The love of God casts out all other fear! Every affection makes him who cherishes it, in some degree, braver than he would have been without it. It is not degrading to this subject to remind you of what we see away far down in the scale of living beings. Look at that strange maternal instinct that in the lowest animals--out of weakness makes them strong, and causes them to forget all terror of the most terrible at the bidding of the mighty and conquering affection. Look at the same thing on the higher level of our own human life. It is not self-reliance that makes the hero. It is having the heart filled with passionate enthusiasm born of love for some person or for some thing. Love is gentle, but it is omnipotent, victor over all. And when we rise to the highest form of it, namely, the love which is fixed upon God--oh! how that should, and if it be right, will, strengthen and brace, and make every man in whom it dwells, frank, fearless, careless of personal consequences! Cowardice and anxiety, perplexity about life, trembling about the future, the bowed head and the burdened heart--these are not the “fruits of the Spirit.” “Perfect love casteth out fear,” sets our faces as flints, if need be, before human opposition, lifts us up above being at the mercy of events and circumstances, rises coping with and mastering the fear of death, soars on lofty wing high above the darkness of the grave, and, as the apostle in the context tells us, is made perfect herein, that we have the boldness in the day of judgment.
III. Love, which destroys fear, heightens reverence, and deepens self-distrust.
1. A man who is trembling about personal consequences has no eye to appreciate the thing of which he is afraid. There is no reverence where there is desperate fear. He that is trembling lest the lightning should strike him, has no heart to feel the grandeur and to be moved by the solemn awfulness of the storm above his head. And a man to whom the whole thought, or the predominant thought, when God rises before him, is, How awful will be the incidence of His perfections on my head! does not and durst not think about them, and reverence Him. Perfect love takes out of the heart all that bitter sense of possible evil coming on me and leaves me at liberty, with thankful, humble heart, and clear eye, to look into the centre of the brightness and see there the light of His infinite mercy.
2. Love destroys fear, and perfects self-distrust. “Work out your own salvation,” is the apostle’s teaching, “with fear and trembling.” If you call Him “Father” (the name that breathes from the loving heart), “pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” What sort of fear? The fear that is timid about self, because it is, and in order that it may be, confident of God; fear which means, I know I shall fall, unless Thou hold me up, and which then changes, by quick transition, into, I shall not fall, for the Lord is able to make me stand. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Love and fear
Love is pure; love is kind and tender; love is bold and confident. There is no fear in perfect love. Much of the would be unbelief of the day springs from terror. No doubt there is real honest unbelief--a failing to believe--inability to find truth. These deserve our tenderest pity. You should pity and pray for those out in the godless, hopeless gloom, as you pity and pray for the sailors at sea when the wind howls round your house, and you hear the loud boom of the storm driven waves on the shore. Much of the feverishness with which men plunge into business, and whirl in the eddies of pleasure, arises from their dread of God. But, worse still, many so called religious people never get beyond this state of dread. They only know God as the Terrible One. James Mill taught his son John Stuart to think of God as “the Almighty Author of Hell,” and to hate the idea of Him therefore. Of all that the New Testament says of God, James Mill chose to seize only on that. He said nothing of heaven, nor of God’s efforts to keep men from hell. And many people follow his example; they seem to know nothing of God’s love; they spend their lives deprecating God’s wrath. Now, if you live in this state, your religion is of the poorest, lowest possible description. Fear paralyses all the powers of the soul, and must be got rid of before progress can take place. The bird newly caught is afraid of everything and everybody--of the hand that feeds and caresses it: and you get no song while that fear lasts. A fresh boy in school, on the first day, is afraid of everything, and while that fear lasts he learns nothing. He cannot read or write, he can neither draw nor reckon, till the fear is gone. Now so has it ever been with men. As long as men dreaded nature they made no progress in knowledge or power. As long as men throughout the length and breadth of Europe believed that God the Father, and even Christ the Saviour, were so awful and implacable to men, that Mary, the gentle Virgin, must intercede with them for the sinful and the needy, so long could the priests make them believe whatever they chose to tell them, and make them do whatever they pleased to bid them. For fear is credulous. Everything startles it. Now those times, though called the ages of faith, were very barren of religion. Fear demoralised men. There was no joy in religion and no love. Now what is true of others is true of us. If you dread God, then you do not love Him--you cannot. In time, you are bound to hate what you dread. This fear must be got rid of it is the work of perfect love to cast it out of the soul. “Perfect love casteth out fear.” You must not be afraid to accept the broad statement that “God is love.” (J. M. Gibbon.)
The spirit of fear
(with 2 Timothy 1:7; Romans 8:15; John 14:27):--I have brought together several passages to show that the spirit of the gospel is not a spirit of fear, and that Jesus came to deliver us from all fear. There are some objections to be first considered. If life is full of danger and evil, ought we not to be afraid? it may be asked. And if the Bible Contains passages which teach us not to fear, does it not contain other passages which teach that we ought to fear? (Matthew 10:28; Php 2:12; 1 Peter 1:17; Proverbs 3:7). How are these facts and statements to be reconciled with the assertion that it is the duty of Christians not to fear? First, we may say that a distinction can be taken between fear as a subordinate motive and fear as a ruling motive of human action. Fear as the ruling motive of conduct is degrading, because it is essentially selfish. But fear, when controlled by reason, subordinate to hope, joined with courage, becomes caution, watchfulness, modesty. The Christian fears, but is never governed by his fears. But, again, how much we need to fear and ought to fear depends upon the progress of our inward life and Christian experience. The work of Christ is to deliver us from all excessive fear, and to leave in its place calmness and sober watchfulness and a profound peace. But this work is not done suddenly; it is a progressive work. And how this is let us now consider. First, consider fear of sin and of its consequences. The main purpose of Christianity is to save us from sin, and thereby to save us from its consequences, which are moral and spiritual death. And it saves us, not by inspiring fear, but by inspiring faith and courage. It assures us that “sin shall not have dominion” over us. The law of God shows us what our duty is, but gives us no power to do it. The purer and higher the standard, the less ability we feel to reach it. And discouragement is moral death. What we need is the spirit of adoption, whereby we may cry, “Abba, Father!” Then there will be no more fear, neither fear of man nor fear of God, nor fear of sin, nor fear of death, nor fear of what follows death. But in order to be freed from fear, it is not enough to be told not to fear. In the midst of a battle tell the coward not to be afraid; in the midst of a thunderstorm tell the person who shrinks from the vivid flash arid the astounding peal that he need not fear. What good will it do? The source of fear is within, and that must be removed. So preach as much as we may the mercy of God, I tell you that men will still fear, will fear death, will fear hell, as long as unreconciled, unrepented sin is in their hearts. To cure our souls of fear, to fill them with hope and trust, there is but one way, and that is to look our sins in the face, to look God’s law in the face, to see the eternal connection between right and good, death and evil; and then, when we have had an experience of duty, of responsibility, of sin, of danger, we are ready to enter into the deeper experience of pardon, of hope, of entire, present joyous salvation. Thus delivered from the fear of sin by the power of the gospel, we are also delivered from the fear of God. This statement also requires some consideration. There is a fear of God which is always right, and which we shall always need to cherish. Heathenism is a religion of fear; Judaism is the religion of conscience; Christianity is the religion of grateful affection. Where God is regarded essentially as an Almighty Ruler, the chief duty of man is implicit, unquestioning obedience. Where God is regarded chiefly as a judge, the principal duty of man is righteous conduct. Where He is regarded as a father, the chief duty of man is childlike trust and love. So that there is a gradual progress in the conception which men have had of the Deity. Beginning with power, they ascend to justice, and terminate in love. And when perfect love is attained, it casts out all fear. (James Freeman Clarke.)
I. Its properties.
1. Supreme. Love to God cannot exist as a subordinate principle.
2. Pure. Before love can reign sole monarch in the soul, the “old man” must be destroyed.
3. Entire. It will not only admit of no rival, allowing neither the allurements of the world nor the charms of the creature to alienate it from the object that has engrossed it; but it admits of no comparison.
4. Constant. It is not a spark emitted from the blaze of worldly prosperity and fanned by the softness of worldly pleasure, but a flame enkindled by the Sun of Righteousness, and like the fire on the altar it never goes out.
6. Progressive. For though perfect, it does not preclude the possibility of increase or enlargement.
II. Its operation--“casteth out fear.”
1. What kind of fear?
(a) A reverential fear of God.
(b) A cautionary fear of the holiness, justice, and power of God.
(c) Natural fear, which is necessary to the preservation of life.
(a) Servile fear.
(b) Fear of meeting the necessaries of life.
(c) The fear of man, which bringeth a snare.
(d) The fear of the last enemy.
(e) The fear of the judgment.
(f) The fear of hell.
2. How does it do this?
(1) By removing sin.
(2) By transforming us into God’s image.
(3) By perfecting all the other graces of Christianity.
Faith is perfected by love. Distrust is the offspring of suspicion, and want of confidence is want of love. Where there is perfect love there is true tranquillity, the sweetest harmony: all is peace--perfect, perpetual, eternal peace. (Samuel Dunn.)
Love and fear
John has been speaking of boldness, and that naturally suggests its opposite--fear. He has been saying that perfect love produces courage in the day of judgment, because it produces likeness to Christ, who is the judge. In my text he explains and enlarges that statement. For there is another way in which love produces boldness, and that is by its casting out fear. These two are mutually exclusive.
I. The empire of fear. Fear is a shrinking apprehension of evil as befalling us, from the person or thing which we dread. God is righteous; God righteously administers His universe. God enters into relations of approval or disapproval with His responsible creature. Therefore there lies, dormant for the most part, but present in every heart, and active in the measure in which that heart is informed as to itself, the slumbering cold dread that between it and God things are not as they ought to be. I believe, for my part, that such a dumb, dim consciousness of discord attaches to all men, though it is often smothered, often ignored, and often denied. But there it is; the snake hybernates, but it is coiled in the heart all the same, and warmth will awake it. Arising from that discomforting consciousness of discord there come, likewise, other forms and objects of dread. For if I am out of harmony with Him, what will be my fate in the midst of a universe administered by Him, and in which all are His servants? Whilst all things serve the soul that serves Him, all are embattled against the man that is against, or not for, God and His will. Then there rises up another object of dread, which, in like manner, derives all its power to terrify and to hurt from the fact of our discordance with God, and that is, the “shadow feared of man,” that stands shrouded by the path, and waits for each of us. God; God’s universe; God’s messenger, Death--these are facts with which we stand in relation, and if our relations with Him are out of gear, then He and all of these are legitimate objects of dread to us. But now there is something else that casts out fear than perfect love, and that is--perfect levity. For it is the explanation of the fact that so many of us know nothing about what I am talking about, and fancy that I am exaggerating or putting forward false views.
II. That brings me to the second point--viz., the mission of fear. John uses a rare word in my text when he says, “fear hath torment.” “Torment” does not convey the whole idea of the word. It means suffering, but suffering for a purpose; suffering which is correction; suffering which is disciplinary; suffering which is intended to lead to something beyond itself. Fear, the apprehension of personal evil, has the same function in the moral world as pain has in the physical, It is a symptom of disease, and is intended to bid us look for the remedy and the Physician. What is an alarm bell for, but to rouse the sleepers and to hurry them to the refuge! And so this wholesome, manly dread of the certain issue of discord with God is meant to do for us what the angels did for Lot--lay a mercifully violent hand on the shoulder of the sleeper, and shake him into aroused wakefulness, and hasten him out of Sodom. The intention of fear is to lead to that which shall annihilate it, and take away its cause. There is nothing more ridiculous, nothing more likely to betray a man, than the indulgence in an idle fear which does nothing to prevent its own fulfilment. Horses in a burning stable are so paralysed by dread that they cannot stir, and get burnt to death. I fear; then what do I do? Nothing! And that is true about hosts of us. What ought I to do? Let the dread direct me to its source--my own sinfulness. Let the discovery of my own sinfulness direct me to its remedy--the righteousness and the Cross of Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, can deal with the disturbing element in my relation to God. So my fear should proclaim to me the merciful “name that is above every name,” and drive me as well as draw me to Christ, the Conqueror of sin and the Antagonist of all dread. I think we shall scarcely understand the religion of love unless we recognise that dread is a legitimate part of an unforgiven man’s attitude towards God. My fear should be to me like the misshapen guide that may lead me to the fortress where I shall be safe. Oh! do not tamper with the wholesome sense of dread. Do not let it lie, generally sleeping, and now and then awaking in your hearts and bringing about nothing.
III. Lastly, the expulsion of fear. My text points out the natural antagonism and mutual exclusiveness of these two emotions. If I go to Jesus Christ as a sinful man, and get His love bestowed upon me, then, as the next verse to my text says, my love springs in response to His to me, and in the measure in which that love rises in my heart will it frustrate its antagonistic dread. As I said, you cannot love and fear the same person, unless the love is of a very rudimentary and imperfect character. But just as when you pour pure water into a bladder, the poisonous gases that it may have contained will be driven out before it, so when love comes in dread goes out. But remember that it is “perfect love” which “casts out fear.” Inconsistent as the two emotions are in themselves, in practice, they may be united by reason of the imperfection of the nobler. And in the Christian life they are united with terrible frequency. There are many professing Christian people who live all their days with a burden of shivering dread upon their shoulders and an icy cold fear in their hearts, just because they have not got close enough to Jesus Christ, and kept their hearts with sufficient steadfastness under the quickening influences of His love, to have shaken off their dread as a sick man’s distempered fancies. A little love has not mass enough in it to drive out thick, clustering fears. See that you resort only to the sane, sound way of getting rid of the wholesome, rational dread of which I have been speaking. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A soul-tormenting fear and a fear-expelling love
I. A soul-tormenting fear.
1. This slavish fear is co extensive with the unregenerate race. A slavish fear of--
2. This slavish fear is ever associated with mental suffering. It makes the present miserable by its horrid forebodings of the future.
II. A fear-expelling love. This includes--
1. A consciousness that God loves us.
2. A settled confidence in God’s fatherly regard for us.
3. The influential dwelling of God within us.
4. The extinction by God of all selfishness within us.
Conclusion: This subject--
1. Supplies the test of true religion.
2. Indicates the criterion of true preaching.
3. Shows the philosophy of the gospel. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Fear and love
The words of St. John as to fear and love would probably startle us if they were less familiar. What they say is, in effect, that “fear” and “love” are, as such, in antagonism; that in proportion as “love” gains strength, it tends to oust “fear”; that to be, in a religious sense, under the influence of “fear,” is to be in an imperfect condition with regard to “love.” And yet Scripture assigns to fear a considerable place in the apparatus, so to speak, of religious motives and forces (Luke 12:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10-11; Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 1:17). In such passages the underlying purport is obvious: “Do this, avoid that, or it will be the worse for you: obey, on peril of the consequences of disobedience.” How, then, will the text stand when confronted with a line of address at once so authoritative, so luminous, and so stern? The answer is, that our Lord and St. Peter and St. Paul are urging men to fear the penal consequence of sin, considered in their whole length and breadth, and concentrated into that one supremely terrible, consequence--perpetual exclusion from the presence of God; whereas St. John is looking at “fear” of penal suffering considered in itself--the dread of hell, pure and simple. This is the fear which, he says, “hath torment,” or rather “punishment”; it carries punishment in its bosom. It regards God not as the all holy and all-good Father, who has every right to filial obedience, but as an irresistible Power, not to be trifled with or escaped from, who can and will inflict tremendous penalties on those who venture to defy His authority. Fear of punishment, either as imminent or as distant, is not a false or bad principle of action in its own place and for its own time. It is appropriate for the earlier stage of spiritual training; it marks a stage in the moral progress through which the Supreme Educator, Divinely equitable and patient, conducts His children by slow steps, in consideration of hearts not fully softened and consciences not thoroughly enlightened, which, as yet, are unfit for a high religious standard. Is not this “fear” worth something? Bishop Andrewes, alluding to it, observes that it is “as the base court to the temple,” and adds that a man must do his duty “for fear of punishment, if he cannot get himself to do it for love of righteousness.” As St. Augustine says, this is not the fear that “is clean”--it arises not out of love of God, but out of the terror of suffering; yet it may make the whole difference to a person’s moral future whether, at a particular critical time, he has it, or has it not. If he has it, he resists the temptation, he does not commit the sin; and that is to gain much. The perilous hour is got through safely; the conscience escapes a defilement and a burden; the ground so far, is clear for the further operations of grace. And these will, by degrees, absorb the fear of punishment, simply as such--into what? Into such a love for God as excludes all fear whatsoever? No, rather into a fear which is so absolutely compatible with love that it may even be said to grow out of love, to be contained in love’s very heart. For what is the love here intended, but a closer and closer adhesion to the will of God as the supreme good, an ever growing desire to please Him and to be right with Him, because He is what He is to us? But as long as we live, failure is possible; there must be the possibility of ultimate failure, even on the part of the gray-haired saint, as Bunyan in his “dream” saw that “there was a way to hell from the gates of heaven as well as from the city of destruction”; as, before now, men have fallen from God at their very “lust hour.” And that possibility involves a fear which dwells not on the mere pain of future punishment, but on that which is the essential and misery of hell--the forfeiture of the life giving love of God. This fear may be called filial, and not servile; for in proportion as a child loves heartily a good parent, the more solicitous will he be not to grieve, displease, disappoint that parent by an exhibition of thankless perversity. (W. Bright, D. D.)
Fear has many eyes. Fear hath punishment
(R.V.):--This is true in two ways--
(1) Fear involves the idea of punishment;
(2) fear is a foretaste of punishment. (Cambridge Bible for Schools.)
by anticipating punishment has it even now. (Dean Alford.)
Love is like honey, but perfect love is like the honey with all the comb and wax strained out. Love is like fire, but pure love is like the same fire free from all smoke and soot. Love is like water, but unmixed love is like the same water freed from all earthy matter. Love is like light, but simple and perfect love is like the same light freed from all cloud, and fog, and smoke. (G. D. Watson.)
1 John 4:19
We love Him, because He first loved us
The priority of God
Everything which we do God has first made it possible for us to do.
Everywhere God is first; and man, coming afterward, enters into Him and finds in God the setting and the background of his life. There is no part of life in which this is not true. We may say a few words first upon the whole subject of the backgrounds of life in general. Man never is sent first into the world and bidden to evolve out of his own being the conditions in which he is to live. Always something is before him; always there is a landscape in which he finds his figure standing when he becomes conscious of himself. The material is background for the spiritual--the earth, which is body, for man, who is soul. A child was born yesterday. How he lies today in his serene, superb unconsciousness! And all the forces and resources of the earth are gathered about his cradle offering themselves to him. He takes what they all bring as if it were his right. Not merely on his senses, but even on his mind and most unconscious soul, the world into which he has come is pressing itself. Its conventionalities and creeds, its prejudices and limitations and precedents, all its discoveries and hopes and fears--they are the scenery in which this new life stands. They are here before him, and he comes into them. Shall we talk about all this as if it were a bondage into which the new child is born? Shall we dream for him of freedom which he might have had if nothing had been before him? Surely that is no true way to think about it. There are men who, if they cannot destroy the world of assured truths, would at least destroy the consciousness of it. They would ignore it. They would seem at least to be trying experiments as if nothing had yet been proved. Far be it from me to deny the exceptional value of such men; but their value is the value of protest and exception. The normal, healthy human life lives in its environments and keeps its backgrounds. It is not their slave, but their child. It fastens itself into them, and realises and fulfils its life by them, and makes in its due time along with them the background for the lives of the years to come. Now all of this is not religious, save in the very largest sense; but all of this becomes distinctly religious the moment that all this background of life gathers itself into a unity of purpose and intention and becomes a Providence, or care of God. When once that truth has opened on us, then all the interest of life centres in and radiates from this--that He, God, is before it all. Every activity of ours answers to some previous activity of His. Do we hope? It is because we have caught the sound of some promise of His. Do we fear? It is because we have had some glimpse of the dreadfulness of getting out of harmony with Him. Do we live? It is a projection and extension of His being. Do we die? It is the going home of our immortal souls to Him. Oh, the wonderful richness of life when it is all thus backed with the priority of God! It is the great illumination of all living. And the wonder of it is the way in which, in that illumination, the soul of man recognises its right. That is what it was made for. See what the religious world really is in its idea, and shall be when it shall finally be realised. A world everywhere aware of and rejoicing in the priority of God, feeling all power flow out from Him, and sending all action back to report itself to Him for judgment--a world where goodness means obedience to God, and sin means disloyalty to God, and progress means growth in the power to utter God, and knowledge means the understanding of God’s thought, and happiness means the peace of God’s approval. That is the only world which is religious. And now see how all this truth comes to the full display of its richness in the Christian faith. The Christian faith is the sum and flower of the religious life of man. Whatever has struggled in all other religions comes to its free and full expression there. And so the truth of the priority of God is the first and fundamental truth of Christianity. With Jesus it was always, “God loves you.” He went about saying that from house to house, from man to man. He built this background behind every life. What will you do if you are sent to carry the Gospel to your friend, your child? Will you stand over him and say, “You must love God; you will suffer for it if you do not?” When was ever love begotten so?” Who is God? “Why should I love Him?” “How can I love Him?” answers back the poor, bewildered heart, and turns to the things of earth which with their earthly affections seem to love it, and satisfies itself in loving them. Or perhaps it grows defiant and says, “I will not,” flinging back your exhortation as the cold stone flings back the sunlight. But you say to your friend, your child, “God loves you,” say it in every language of yours, in every vernacular of his, which you can command, and his love is taken by surprise, and he wakes to the knowledge that he does love God without a resolution that he will. How shall you make man know that God loves him? In every way there is no speech nor language in which that voice may not be heard--but most of all by loving the man with a great love yourself. We may think again not of the way in which we shall get our friends to love God, but of the way in which we shall get ourselves to love Him. Oh, the old struggles! How many have said, “I will love God; I ought to, and I will,” and so have wrestled to do what they could not do--what in their hearts they knew no real reason for doing--and have miserably failed, and now are satisfying themselves with loveless obedience, or else have left God altogether, and tell their hearts’ that they must forego all such beautiful, hopeless ambitions. Ah, what you need is to get away round upon the other side of the whole matter. It is not whether you love God, but whether God loves you. If He does, and if you can know that He does, then give yourself up totally and unquestioningly to the assurance of that love. Rejoice in it by day and night. Sometimes it seems good to sweep aside all the complications of spiritual experience and bring it all to absolute simplicity. Here is God, and here is a child of God. The Father loves the child, not because the child is this or that, or anything but just His child. He says to you, “Go, save My child for me.” And you say, “How, my Father?” And He says, “By Me.” And you say, “Yes, I see,” and go and take the Father’s love and press it on that child of His, just as you find him. You know that the fire and the wood belong together: You are sure that if the fire gets at the wood, the wood will burn, and by and by, look! the wood is burning. The wood turns to fire because the fire gave itself to the wood. The wood loves the fire because the fire first loved it. And now I wonder whether in some of your minds there does not come a question regarding all this that I have said. “After all,” you may ask yourself, “what does it matter? If the end is gained, if God and man come together, what matter is it from which side the first impulse came? But must it not make a difference? Is there a situation or a fact or a condition anywhere which is absolute and identical, and does not vary with the character of him who occupies it? The man is more than the situation. The situation means little without the soul of the man giving it its meaning. When then I see man reconciled to God and walking with his Lord in the white garment of a new life, it makes vast difference what is the spirit of that reconciled, regenerated man. If it is the first fact of his new existence--that which he never loses for a moment--that the impulse of it came from God; that before he ever thought of the higher life: its halls were made ready for him and its Lord came forth into the wilderness to find him--then the strength of a profound humility is always with him. The paralysis of pride does not creep over him. Besides this, the appeal of the new life to the soul which lives it is largely bound up with the truth of the priority of God. The man is stone whom that does not appeal to. How shall he overtake this love which has so much the start of him? This is what makes his service eager and enthusiastic. Again this truth, that God is first, gives me the right to keep a strong and lively hope for all my fellow men. It gives me also the chance to believe that I can help them. I have only to tell them over and over again how near He is; I have only to beg them to open their eyes and see! Have I talked today too generally of the priority of God? Then make it absolutely special and Concrete. There is some duty which God has made ready for you to do tomorrow; nay, today! He has built it like a house for you to occupy. You have not to build it. He has built it, and He will lead you up to its door and set you with your feet upon its threshold. Will you go in and occupy it? Will you do the duty which He has made ready? (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Love, not fear, the animating principle of a believer’s conduct
I. It is a principle exactly suited to our mental constitution. Take the case of our love to the creature, and whence does it arise? Two elements invariably attach, in our apprehension, to the object of it. These are excellence in itself and some advantage arising from it to ourselves. Neither of these alone will produce love. Even in the natural love of the parent for the child or of the child for the parent, it will be found these two elements exist. Relative goodness seems to be essential to love. It may be said, such a view destroys the disinterested nature of love, and introduces an element of selfishness. Even were this true, it would not set aside a fact of which all must be conscious in their mental constitution. But we do not admit that a regard to our own happiness is of the nature of selfishness. It is in itself good. The Creator has implanted it in all His intelligent offspring, and it is therefore not blameworthy. Now this is the very ground on which the love of God is based. Every perfection that can command our approval and admiration belongs to Him. But this excellence is all relative to us. In every feature of it we recognise an advantage to ourselves. That unerring wisdom is our guide, that almighty power is our protection, that boundless goodness is our support. We look upon them with delight, and say, “This God is our God.” And so we acquiesce in the apostle’s sentiment--“We love Him because He first loved us.”
II. This principle is as scriptural as it is reasonable. How naturally and properly does David express himself (Psalms 18:1-3). Excellence upon excellence he discovers in God and celebrates with the highest praise, but everyone of them is regarded as a source of benefit to himself. The Scriptures unite the glory of God and our good.
III. This principle is well illustrated in the history of redemption. It began with God. The first movement was on His part. When our first parents fell they fled from God, and discovered no disposition to return to Him. But He followed them with proposals of love. Observe, then, the practical effect of such a revelation on the mind of him who becomes concerned about his own redemption. He sees what the mind of God is. He can have no doubt upon the great truth that “the will of God is his salvation.” He has only to acquiesce in an arrangement that has been made already by unerring wisdom and infinite love.
IV. The principles of the text apply to every individual who is saved, as well as to the scheme of redemption by which he is saved. God has not devised redemption, and then left it to men to receive it if they will and reject it if they will. The same grace that provided it applies it.
V. When the soul is thus brought under the power of grace, it continues to be powerfully influenced by its apprehension of the undeserved and gracious love of God.
VI. Everything is so ordered in the life of the believer as to exercise and advance this Divine principle. He is taught to trace up all he enjoys to the gift of God in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). He lives in the midst of continual remembrances of God and His love. He looks upon the world in which he has been placed. The marks of sin are many, but the tokens of the Divine love are many more and greater far. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
I. The parentage of true love to God. There is no light in the planet but that which cometh from the sun; there is no light in the moon but that which is borrowed, and there is no true love in the heart but that which cometh from God. From this overflowing fountain of the infinite love of God, all our love to God must spring.
II. Love, after it is Divinely born in our heart, must be divinely nourished. Love is an exotic; it is not a plant that will flourish naturally in human soil. On what, then, does love feed? Why, it feeds on love. That which brought it forth becomes its food. “We love Him because He first loved us.” The constant motive and sustaining power of our love to God is His love to us. And here let me remark that there are different kinds of food in this great granary of love. When we are first of all renewed the only food on which we can live is milk, because we are but babes and as yet have not strength to feed on higher truths. The first things, then, that our love feeds upon when it is but an infant, is a sense of favours received. And mark, however much we grow in grace this will always constitute a great part of the food of our love. But when the Christian grows older and has more grace he loves Christ for another reason. He loves Christ because he feels Christ deserves to be loved. But mark at the same time, we must always mingle with this the old motive. We must still feel that we begin with that first stepping stone, loving Christ because of His mercies, and that although we have climbed higher and have come to love Him with a love that is superior to that in motive, yet still we carry the old motive with us. We love Him because of His kindness towards us. This, then, is the food of love; but when love grows sick--and it does sometimes--the most loving heart grows cold towards Christ. Do you know that the only food that ever suits sick love is the food on which it fed at first? Take it to the Cross and bid it look and see afresh the bleeding Lamb; and surely this shall make thy love spring from a dwarf into a giant, and this shall fan it from a spark into a flame. And then, when thy love is thus recruited, let me bid thee give thy love full exercise; for it shall grow thereby. You say, “Where shall I exercise the contemplation of my love to make it grow?” Oh! Sacred Dove of love, stretch thy wings and play the eagle now. Come I open wide thine eyes and look full in the Sun’s face, and soar upward, upward, upward, far above the heights of this world’s creation, upwards, till thou art lost in eternity.
III. The work of love. “We love Him.” Children of God, if Christ were here on earth, what would you do for Him? “Do for Him!” says one; “do for Him!” “Did He hunger, I would give Him meat though it were my last crust. Did He thirst, I would give Him drink, though my own lips were parched with fire. Was He naked, I would strip myself and shiver in the cold to clothe Him. Did He want a soldier, I would enlist in His army; did He need that some one should die, I would give my body to be burned if He stood by to see the sacrifice and cheer me in the flames.” Ah! we think we love Him so much that we should do all that; but there is a grave question about the truth of this matter after all. Do you not know that Christ’s family are here? And if ye love Him, would it not follow as a natural inference that you would love His offspring? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Our love to God is like a trickling rill speeding its way to the ocean because it first came from the ocean. All the rivers run into the sea, but their floods first arose from it: the clouds that were exhaled from the mighty main distilled in showers that filled the water brooks. Here was their first cause and prime origin; and, as if they recognised the obligation, they pay tribute in return to the parent source. The ocean love of God, so broad that even the wing of imagination could not traverse it, sends forth its treasures of the rain of grace, which drop upon our hearts, which are as the pastures of the wilderness; they make our hearts to overflow, and in streams of gratitude the life imparted flows back again to God.
I. The indispensable necessity of love to God in the heart. You will find in the seventh verse of this chapter, that love to God is set down as being a necessary mark of the new birth. “Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” In the eighth verse we are told also that love to God is a mark of our knowing God. True knowledge is essential to salvation. God does not save us in the dark. Further, the chapter teaches us that love to God is the root of love to others (1 John 4:11). He, who, being in the Church, is yet not of it heart and soul, is but an intruder in the family. But since love to our brethren springs out of love to our one common Father, it is plain that we must have love to that Father or else we shall fail in one of the indispensable marks of the children of God. Again, keeping to the run of the passage, you will find by the eighteenth verse that love to God is a chief means of that holy peace which is an essential mark of a Christian. Love must cooperate with faith and cast out fear, so that the soul may have boldness before God. We also see, if we turn again to St. John’s Epistle and pursue his observations to the next chapter and the third verse, that love is the spring of true obedience. “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Though the fruit be not the root of the tree, yet a well rooted tree will, in its season, bring forth its fruits. Love to God is as natural to the renewed heart as love to its mother is to a babe. Who needs to reason a child into love? As certainly as you have the life and nature of God in you you will seek after the Lord.
II. The source and spring of true love to God. “We love Him because He first loved us.” Observe, then, that love to God does not begin in the heart from any disinterested admiration of the nature of God. Again, our love to God does not spring from the self-determining power of the will. A man can only love God when he has perceived some reasons for so doing; and the first argument for loving God which influences the intellect so as to turn the affections, is the reason mentioned in the text, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Now, having thus set the text in a negative light let us look at it in a more positive manner. It is certain that faith in the heart always precedes love. We first believe the love of God to us before we love God in return. And, oh what an encouraging truth this is. Your first step is to believe that God loves you, and when that truth is fully fixed in your soul by the Holy Spirit, a fervent love to God will spontaneously issue from your soul, even as flowers willingly pour forth their fragrance under the influence of the dew and the sun. Rest assured that in proportion as we are fully persuaded of God’s love to us, we shall be affected with love to Him. Do not let the devil tempt you to believe that God does not love you because your love is feeble; for if he can in any way weaken your belief in God’s love to you he cuts off or diminishes the flow of the streams which feed the sacred grace of love to God. Oh for a great wave of love to carry us right out into the ocean of love. Observe day by day the deeds of God’s love to you in the gift of food and raiment and in the mercies of life, and especially in the covenant blessings which God gives you, the peace which He sheds abroad in your hearts, the communion which He vouchsafes to you with Himself and His blessed Son, and the answers to prayer which He grants you. Note well these things, and if you consider them carefully and weigh their value, you will be accumulating the fuel on which love feeds its consecrated flame.
III. The revival of our love. Perhaps some of you have become so cold in your affections that it is difficult to be sure that you ever did love God at all. Now note well that the cause which originated your love is the same which must restore it. You went to Christ as a sinner at first, and your first act was to believe the love of God to you when there was nothing in you that: evidenced it. Go the same way again. Think of the Lord’s unchanging grace, and you will feel the springtime of love returning to your soul. Many considerations ought to aid you, a backslider, to believe more in the love of God than ever you did. For think what love it must be that can invite you still to return, you, who after knowing so much have sinned against light and knowledge; you, who alter having experienced so much have given the lie to your profession.
IV. The perfecting of our love to God. There are few of us who know much of the deeps of the love of God; our love is shallow. Love to God is like a great mountain. The majority of travellers view it from afar or traverse the valley at its base: a few climb to a halting place on one of its elevated spurs whence they see a portion of its sublimities: here and there an adventurous traveller climbs a minor peak, and views glacier and alp at closer range; fewest of all are those who scale the top most pinnacle and tread the virgin snow. As fear goes out love comes in at the other door. So the more faith in God the more room there is for soul-filling love. Again, strong faith in God’s love brings great enjoyment; our heart is glad. This deep enjoyment creates the flaming love of which I have just now spoken. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Love’s birth and parentage
I. We shall use the text for doctrinal instruction; and one point of doctrinal instruction is very clear, namely, that God’s love to His people is first. From all eternity the Lord looked upon His people with an eye of love, and as nothing can be before eternity His love was first. Another part of the doctrine of the text is this, that the love of God is the cause of our love to God. A thing may be first and another second, and yet the first may not be the cause of the second, there may be no actual link between the two: but here we have it unmistakeably, “We love Him because He first loved us”; which signifies not merely that this is the motive of which we are conscious in our love, but that this is the force, the Divine power which created love in us. If you love God it is with no love of yours, but with the love which He has planted in your bosoms. Unrenewed human nature is a soil in which love to God will not grow. There must be a taking away of the rock and a supernatural change of the barren ground into good soil, and then, as a rare plant from another land, love must be planted in our hearts and sustained by power divine or else it will never be found there. There is no love to God in this world that is of the right kind except that which was created and formed by the love of God in the soul.
II. Secondly, we shall use the text for experimental information; and here--
1. We learn that all true believers love God. I do not say that they all feel an equal love, or that they all feel as much love as they should. I will not say that they do not sometimes give cause to doubt their love. But there is love in the heart of every true-born child of God; it is as needful to spiritual life as blood is to natural life.
2. Observe carefully the kind of love which is essential to every Christian--“We love Him because He first loved us,” Much has been said about disinterested love to God; there may be such a thing, and it may be very admirable, but it is not mentioned here. You may not be able to rise into those heights into which others have ascended because you are as yet only a babe in grace; but you are safe enough if your love be of this simple character, that it loves because it is loved. See whether such a humble, grateful love towards God dwells in your hearts, for it is a vital point.
3. Love to God wherever it is found is a sure evidence of the salvation of its possessor. If you are loving God you must have been loved of God: true love could not have come into your heart in any other conceivable way; and you may rest assured that you are the object of His eternal choice.
III. Thirdly, we shall use the text as a matter of practical direction. The text tells you how to love God. The text shows us the method of the Holy Spirit. He reveals the love of God to the heart, and then the heart loves God in return. Go thou to the fragrant mystery of redeeming love, and tarry with it till in those beds of spices thine own garments shall be made to smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia. There is no way of sweetening thyself but by tasting the sweetness of Jesus Christ; the honey of His love will make thy whole nature to be as a honeycomb, every cell shorter of thy manhood shall drop sweetness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Love of God
The phrase of the revised version has the larger meaning. “We love” includes “We love Him,” and it is evident from the rest of the passage that we have here a distinct though not an exclusive reference to the love of God. How can we love Him then, the Invisible, the Infinite, and Omnipotent? Might we not as well try to love illimitable space or embrace the elastic and viewless air? And yet a great multitude which no man can number declare with St. John that they do love God. Yes, and moreover you will find that the love of God will stand all the tests which can be applied to any love known among men. Things widely different in their nature are often much alike in their appearance. Artificial flowers are very like real ones; gilt is very like gold; and paste is made to look like gems. Wise men, therefore, apply tests which only the real articles can stand. They find the real flower by its scent; test gold by acids, and the file tells them at once which is the gem and which is the worthless imitation. What, then, are the marks of true love?
I. True love is unselfish. False love rushes onwards to its own low ends. It is meanly selfish, and when resisted, cruel as the grave. But true love gives up and goes without. ‘Tis finely prodigal, royally extravagant, and divinely liberal. Well, men’s love for God has this mark upon it; it teaches men to deny self--to give up and go without. Oh, what sacrifices men have made for God! The sacrifice of God’s love for men is indeed, and ever must be, the great fact of all history. But the next great fact is the sacrifice of men’s love for God. God’s love in Christ gave its “all” to men, and the love of God in Christian hearts gives “all” to God today. It is a constraining power in men’s lives.
II. True love has pleasure in fellowship with its object. As the needle turns to the pole, so love, if true, seeks communion with its object and is only there at rest. Sir Henry Taylor, in his autobiography, says that when the affection of a certain couple of friends for each other was spoken of in Wordsworth’s hearing, the poet asked, “Are they, so far as circumstances permit, continually together: for that is the test?” Yes; fellowship is the measure of love. “It is good for me to draw near to God,” said one psalmist; and sacred history proves that such is the conviction of all saints. Every halting place along the patriarch’s line of march became at once a place of worship. These men and their God were continually together. They delighted in God; and all who love Him still live with Him. They go to prayer and worship, not as the “whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school,” but rather as children run from their tasks to play.
III. True love is ennobling in its influence. Passion degrades, and lust dehumanises man; but love makes all men better and nobler. Sir Richard Steele said of Lady Hastings that “to love her was a liberal education.” But all true love educates. You cannot tend in love a wounded bird, or pity a hungry dog without thereby being taught something of the lore of angels. A mother cannot love her helpless babe without thereby being lifted nearer God. Love, like mercy, is twice blessed, “it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” Well, men’s love to God does this. It cleanses speech of all impurities and gruffness. It refines manners and educates the taste. It expands sentiment and deepens sympathy. It makes the clown gentle and the coward brave.
IV. True love is faithful unto the end.
“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering barque,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”
It is no fickle fancy, no passing mood, no fair-weather affection. (J. M. Gibbon.)
Love God and humanity
I. Love to God is essential to the Christian life.
1. The Lord is not satisfied unless He obtains our love.
2. Unless we love the Lord there cannot be complete personal union.
3. Love to Him makes our obedience sweet.
4. Love to God acts as an irresistible magnet to draw us from sin.
5. The mutual love between the Christian and his Lord is the heart music of life.
II. The love of God is the grand motive power of the Christian life.
1. The love of God is the fountain of our love to each other. To do good to those who need our active sympathy merely because it is our duty to do so is pulling up stream, and the best of us would soon tire of it, but to bless men because we love them constrains us to be faithful in active goodness unto death.
2. The love of God is needful to inspire us to noble deeds. In olden times the maiden promised her hand to the knight if he did some valiant deed of warfare; but in our case the Lord loves us first of all, and that love is the impulse of a noble life.
3. The love of God to us is a sure foundation for our faith.
4. The love of God to the world is an ever present rainbow of hope to the Christian. Why? Because God will second your efforts. He loves them, and therefore let us hope for the worst of men.
III. We are commanded to love our brother man.
1. This love oils the wheels of service.
2. Love to our brother man is the motive of self-denial for his sake. Pure love is its own exceeding great reward.
IV. I would now remind you why you love God.
1. We love Him because He first loved us.
2. We also love Him because He laid down His life for us.
3. We love Him because His love is unchangeable. (W. Birch.)
God’s love to us, and ours to Him
Our nature is so constituted that we are never really happy until we love God. A bold assertion this; but does not our experience prove that it is a true one? We can love Him. Millions have done so already. And having the capacity within us, which we must admit to be the highest of all our capacities, when we consider the object on which it may be exercised, we are never quite at ease till it has fastened itself on its proper object. Till then there is uneasiness, insecurity, a sense of disproportion between the promise of our nature and its performance. We are like guests at a banquet who cannot find their place, and go hunting up and down bewildered. But when once we have got to love God there is tranquillity. But if it be true that .man is so constituted that he cannot be really happy unless he love God, it is also true that he cannot love God unless he knows Him. Not till an object is brought in some way or other into contact with our experience can we have any emotion about it, much less that highest and most appreciative of all emotions--love. And therefore man, with that inborn capacity of his for loving God, has at all times, however imperfectly, sought to know Him. He has “felt after God.” But here an obstacle rises up, before which some, who may have so far gone with us, turn back in despair. They grant that it were man’s happiness to love God if he could, and that to love Him he must know Him; but who, they ask, can know the Unknowable? We can but enumerate the things He is not, but that is far from discerning what He is. In reply, we grant the difficulty, but remain undiscouraged by its existence. It only shows that if a man is to know God, God must take the initiative; God must reveal Himself to man. And to reveal Himself means not to disclose His whole essence, but so much of His being, and so much of man’s relation to Him, as it may be well or possible for man to know. Now this, if revelation be true, is what God in His wisdom and His goodness has seen fit to do; and we might as well refuse the aid of a lamp in the darkness because it is not the sun as decline to be guided by such knowledge of Himself as He has given us because it is not and cannot be complete knowledge. But God’s revelation is manifold, and they do ill, and lose much of it that is precious, who confine it within the four corners of a book, which does but contain the imperfect record of a part, though it be far the most important part, of it. God reveals Himself in nature as the sustaining power, by which all things exist and have their being, and as a power working through fixed laws, which reach from the minutest particles of matter on earth to the most distant star, not one of which laws varies one hair’s breadth, not one of which ever fails. God reveals Himself in history as the moral governor of the world; and here also He works by fixed, unalterable laws. He shows us that He loves good and hates evil, and that evil shall in the end be overcome by good. God reveals Himself in conscience to each individual man with that inevitable, unimpeachable verdict on our past actions as they proceed from us one by one, and those promptings and monitions as to future actions, which we may neglect, because we are free, but which, “whether we hear or whether we forbear,” have still been given us. These are some of the revelations by which God imparts, or is ready to impart, to all men some knowledge of Himself. But as yet we touch but the hem of His garment, we do not see His face. God is on His throne in heaven, and we are poor mortals upon the distant earth. But what if God, in His infinite goodness, sees fit to bridge over from His side the chasm which we cannot pass, to satisfy the longing which, if He has made us, He has Himself imparted in our souls, and to reveal Himself to man, not now in a cold immutable law, but in a living breathing person like ourselves, who can gather up all our God-ward affections as in a focus, and transmit them in concentrated fulness to the awful throne on high? Shall we not know Him then as we never knew Him before? And shall we not be able to love Him then as we never loved Him before? But this is the revelation which He has actually vouchsafed to give us in His Son Jesus Christ. And this manifestation of God was not opened on us unexpectedly, in which case we might have missed its full significance, but prepared for and led up to by a long course of discipline and aroused anticipation. The record of this preparation we have in the pages of the Old Testament and the record of its fulfilment in the New. What if those to whom it was first tendered misunderstood it in part, as we can now see, mixed up much that was local and temporary with it, and failed to come at the whole truth? Their knowledge of God was coloured knowledge, but it was not therefore unreal; their expectations of a further revelation of Him were coloured expectations, but they were none the less inspired from a Divine source. In this as in other things connected with the education of our race the same order prevails: “That is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual.” And when that fuller revelation was made, did not illusion cease, and did men see nothing but the pure absolute light? By no means. They saw as much as they were capable of seeing; they understood as much as they had capacities for understanding. Now, if we turn from the manner of the revelation of Himself which God has made in Christ Jesus to the matter of it, we find that it conveys to us precisely that which we most need to know. I admit that God is my Creator, but does He regard me as the workman regards the machine that he has made? There is no sympathy between them. He can make it and break it, so far as the machine is concerned, with equal indifference. I admit that God controls the affairs of men by fixed moral laws, but so far men may be to Him but as pawns are in the hand of the chess player. The player cares not for the pawns in themselves, he moves them this way or that, according to the requirements of the game. I admit further that the working of these laws, when considered through a long period of time, convinces me that God approves of good and punishes evil, and so far I may recognise a kind of moral similarity between my own imperfect character and what I may reverently style the character of God; but does this warrant me in hoping for any closer union with Him? If I desire to draw nearer to Him, will He suffer it? The unlikeness is greater than the likeness, and, besides, sin bars the way. Yes, answers Jesus of Nazareth to all these questionings, God is not your Maker and Governor only, but your Father. He loves you and desires your love. I know it and reveal it to you. My life itself is the manifestation of His love. I am His Son, He sent Me to you. Behold in Me, so far as human eyes can see, the character of God. But beautiful, winning, soul-satisfying as this revelation is, there are difficulties in the way which make some men hesitate to accept it. Doubtless there are such difficulties, but do they lie in our path here only, or are they not greater for him who rejects it? Our life is hemmed in with difficulties on every side, they are the necessary accompaniment of our limited faculties, and we may sit reckoning them up for ever, till they paralyse every thought and every action. To complain of them is to complain that God has made us men, and not a creature quite different from man. He is wisest and most loyal to his Master who bears the burden laid upon his back and moves on in spite of it as best he can. And further, whilst we admit the existence of these difficulties, we must be careful not to exaggerate their number or their importance. We may divide them into two classes: those which are inherent in the subject itself, and those which we create for ourselves or others have created for us. The former we shall never abolish, there is nothing for it but to put up with them; the latter we may, in some cases, extenuate or remove. Is it possible, we ask, for God to reveal His very self in a man? That is an inherent difficulty, and the only answer we can make is that we cannot fully understand it, neither can we expect to understand it, because we do not know the limits of possibility with God, but we can believe and act on the belief, as we do in a score of other instances every day, and when we do so we find rest for our souls. He gave us a person and a life to imitate, to trust in and to love; let us beware lest we substitute for Him in our hearts a theory and a scheme of salvation. Let us observe further, for our comfort, how many of the difficulties which so perplex us are merely intellectual difficulties, not moral. That shows us, perhaps, that they are somehow of our own creating. It is much learning that doth make us mad. The poor and the ignorant do not feel them. It is with the heart they believe, not the head; and we must humbly imitate them. Let us then be encouraged to east away the thought of difficulties, and open our hearts to receive in simple faith, and respond to, the full stream of Divine love. “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” That may suffice us. God loves us--stupendous thought!--and therefore we may love Him. When a little child has done wrong and offended his father he goes about uneasy and with an aching heart. He tries to distract himself with other things; he turns to this amusement or to that--innocent amusements, it may be, in themselves--but they have all lost their interest. There is something amiss in the relation of perfect love between him and his parent, and the consciousness of this goes with him wherever he goes. He fortifies himself in his pride, dwells on the fancied wrong that he has suffered by being rebuked, not on the real wrong that he has wrought by disobedience, and resolves to be self-sufficient and do without the love which seems withheld; but the aching heart is still there, the dull sense of unhappiness. At last his father calls to him with a father’s voice, full of pity and of love, and at the sound of that voice his heart is melted like wax within him, not with fear, but with penitent, trustful love; all the barriers which pride had raised are broken down, and he rushes to his father’s arms and is folded once more in a loving embrace. (E. H. Bradby, M. A.)
God’s love to man
To many it seems that perfect amiableness and goodness in our Creator requires Him to look with entire approbation and indulgence upon men, without regard to the principles upon which they are acting, whether holy or unholy. And yet some of this very class of persons, when brought to a more intimate acquaintance with themselves and to a higher conception of what they ought to be, see that a holy God must hate them; and if He hates them they cannot imagine that He loves them at the same time. Here are the two extremes of error, one of which, probably, mankind generally regard as truth.
I. God can hate and love the same person at the same moment. It is shown in--
1. The very nature of benevolence. What is a good man? Try him by a case of this kind. He knows a man who is addicted to drunkenness, and who in his paroxysms abuses his family. How does this good man regard the case? He abhors the drunkard’s character and conduct, yet he loves and pities the man. And thus God exhibits Himself to us as a holy God. He abhors all our sins. He threatens us with eternal destruction, and yet, while we were still enemies, He gave His Son to die for us.
2. Scriptural representation of God’s feelings towards the children of men. Notice the case of those who murdered Christ. None can doubt that they were most hateful to God. And yet the dying Son, who fully represented His Father’s feelings, regarded them as deserving the wrath of God at the same time He prayed for their forgiveness. And was that prayer ineffectual? No; for on the day of Pentecost, a servant of Christ is commissioned to go and charge upon them their crime, not to condemn them, but to bring them to repentance. And then the Holy Spirit descends to bring them to exercise repentance, and some of them, at least, are forgiven. Then look abroad upon a world lying in wickedness, sometimes as great as that which brought the deluge of water on the world or that of fire on Sodom. But He sendeth His rain upon the thankful and the unthankful.
II. God does love all men. It is seen in--
1. The very act of creation. What endowments has He bestowed on man!
2. Forming a moral government for man. The laws under which He has placed us all aim at our personal perfection and the highest degree and form of happiness of which we are capable. But the crowning proof of God’s love--
3. Is in Christ and redemption.
III. Every human being should love Him. The benevolence of God claims our admiration, complacency, and gratitude. (E. N. Kirk, D. D.)
Gratitude not a sordid affection
Some theologians have exacted from an inquirer, at the very outset of his conversion, that he should carry in his heart what they call the disinterested love of God. They have set him on the most painful efforts to acquire this affection. They have led him to view with suspicion the love of gratitude, as having in it a taint of selfishness. The effect of all this on many an anxious seeker after rest has been most discouraging. With the stigma that has been affixed to the love of gratitude, they have been positively apprehensive of the inroads of this affection, and have studiously averted the eye of their contemplation from the objects which are fitted to inspire it.
1. The proper object of the love of gratitude is the Being who has exercised towards me the love of kindness; and this is more correct than to say that the proper object of this affection is the Being who has conferred benefits upon me. Just let the naked principle of kindness discover itself, and through it have neither the power nor the opportunity of coming forth with the dispensation of any service, it is striking to observe how, upon the bare existence of this affection being known, it is met by a grateful feeling on the part of him to whom it is directed; and what mighty argumentations may be given in this way to the stock of enjoyment, and that by the mere reciprocation of kindness begetting kindness. For to send the expression of this kindness into another’s bosom it is not always necessary to do it on the vehicle of a positive donation. It may be conveyed by a look of benevolence; and thus it is that by the mere feeling of cordiality a tide of happiness may be made to circulate throughout all the individuals of an assembled company. Now this is the very principle which is brought into action in the dealings of God with a whole world of malefactors. It looks as if He confided the whole cause of our recovery to the influence of a demonstration of goodwill. It is truly interesting to mark what, in the devisings of His unsearchable wisdom, is the character which He has made to stand most visibly out in the great scheme and history of our redemption; and surely if there be one feature of prominency more visible than another it is the love of kindness. As soon as His love of kindness is believed, so soon does the love of gratitude spring up in the heart of the believer. As soon as man gives up his fear and his suspicion of God and discerns Him to be his friend, so soon does he render Him the homage of a willing and affectionate loyalty. There is not a man who can say, I have known and believed the love which God hath to us, who cannot say also, I have loved God because He first loved me. The law of love begetting love will obtain in eternity. Like the law of reciprocal attraction in the material world, it will cement the immutable and everlasting order of that moral system, which is to emerge with the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Now, by looking more closely to this affection, both in its origin and in its exercises, we shall perceive in it more clearly all the characteristics of virtue. Let it be remarked, then, that an affection may simply exist, and yet be no evidence of any virtue or of any moral worth in the holder of it. I may enter the house of an individual who is an utter stranger to the habit of acting under a sense of duty; who is just as much the creature of mere impulse as the animals beneath him; and who therefore, though some of these impulses are more characteristic of his condition as a man and most subservient to the good of his fellows, may be considered as possessing no virtue whatever, in the strict and proper sense of the term. But he has the property of being affected by external causes. And I, by some ministration of friendship, may flash upon his mind such an overpowering conviction of the goodwill that I bear him as to affect him with a sense of gratitude, even unto tears. The moral obligation of gratitude may not be present to his mind at all. But the emotion of gratitude comes into his heart unbidden, and finds its vent in acknowledgments and blessings on the person of his benefactor. We would say of such a person that he possesses a happier original constitution than another who, in the same circumstances, would not be so powerfully or so tenderly affected. And yet he may have hitherto evinced nothing more than the workings of a mere instinct, which springs spontaneously within him and gives its own impulse to his words and his performances, without a sense of duty having any share in the matter, or without the will prompting the individual by any such consideration as, Let me do this thing because I ought to do it. The first way, then, in which the will may have to do with the love of gratitude is by the putting forth of a desire for the possession of it. It may long to realise this moral accomplishment. It may hunger and thirst after this branch of righteousness. Even though it has not any such power under its command as would enable it to fulfil such a volition, the volition itself has upon it the stamp and the character of virtue. But, again, there are certain doings of the mind over which the will has a control, and by which the affection of gratitude may either be brought into being or be sustained in lively and persevering exercise. At the bidding of the will I can think of one topic rather than another. I can transfer my mind to any given object of contemplation. I can keep that object steadily in view, and make an effort to do so, when placed in such circumstances as might lead me to distraction or forgetfulness. And it is in this way that moral praise or moral responsibility may be attached to the love of gratitude. Ere the heart can be moved by this affection to another there must be in the mind a certain appropriate object that is fitted to call it and to keep it in existence--and that object is the love of kindness which the other bears me. It is this which arms with such a moral and condemnatory force the expostulation which He holds with Israel, “that Israel doth not know, that My people do not consider.” It is because we like not to retain God in our knowledge that our minds become reprobate; and, on the other hand, it is by a continuous effort of my will towards the thought of Him that I forget not His benefits. It is by the strenuousness of a voluntary act that I connect the idea of an unseen benefactor with all the blessings of my present lot and all the anticipations of my futurity. It is by a combat with the most urgent propensities of nature that I am ever looking beyond this surrounding materialism and setting God and His love before me all the day long. There is no virtue, it is allowed, without voluntary exertion; but this is the very character which runs throughout the whole work and exercise of faith. To keep himself in the love of God is a habit, with the maintenance of which the will of man has most essentially to do, because it is at his will that he keeps himself in the thought of God’s love towards him.
2. We now feel ourselves in a condition to speak of the gospel in its free and gratuitous character--to propose its blessings as a gift--to hold out the pardon and the strength and all the other privileges which it proclaims to believers as so many articles for their immediate acceptance--to make it known to men that they are not to delay their compliance with the overtures of mercy till the disinterested love of God arises in their hearts, but that they have a warrant for entering even now into instant reconciliation with God. Nor are we to dread the approach of any moral contamination, because when, after their eyes are opened to the marvellous spectacle of a pleading and offering and beseeching God, holding out eternal life unto the guilty, through the propitiation which His own Son hath made for them, they must from that moment open their whole souls to the influences of gratitude and love the God who thus hath first loved them. We conclude, then, with remarking that the whole of this argument gives us another view of the importance of faith. It brings the heart into contact with that influence by which the love of gratitude is awakened. The reason why man is not excited to the love of God by the revelation of God’s love to him is just because he does not believe that revelation. This is the barrier which lies between the guilty and their offended Lawgiver. Could the kindness of God in Christ Jesus be seen by him, the softening of a kindness back again would be felt by him. This also suggests a practical direction to Christians for keeping themselves in the love of God. They must keep themselves in the habit and in the exercise of faith. They must hold fast that conviction in their minds, the presence of which is indispensable to the keeping of that affection in their hearts. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The reciprocal action of love
I. Divine love in its manifestation to the creature.
II. The reciprocal influence of that love.
III. The priority of the Divine love to the human.
IV. The Divine love causative of the human. (John Tesseyman.)
On love to God
I. The nature and actings of our love to God.
1. Love to God supposes or springs from the knowledge of Him and faith in Him.
2. Love to God includes the highest esteem of Him.
3. Love to God includes earnest desires after His grace and favour, communion with Him, and the enjoyment of Him.
4. Love to God includes or produces complacency, joy, and delight in Him.
5. Love to God includes or springs from a thankful sense of His benefits.
6. Love to God may also include goodwill to, and zeal for, His honour and glory in the world.
II. Reasons and motives to it.
1. How unjust and how unhappy the disposition opposite to this love is.
2. Consider that love to God is the true honour and happiness of your souls.
3. To excite your love to God consider what a transcendently glorious, excellent, and amiable Being He is in Himself.
4. Consider that God, and He alone, can be a suitable and satisfying portion to your souls.
5. Consider the goodness and mercy, love and grace of God, and the blessed fruits of it, to you and others. (T. Fernie, M. A.)
Why we love Him
Love is said to be the fulfilling of the law; and, in its highest conditions, it casts out all fear. A soul that is filled with love to God has no anxieties in reference to the future. A man so filled with love is elevated; and while he walks on earth, his conversation is in heaven, his associations with the invisible. But how shall this love be developed in our hearts? What is the law of its development and of its manifestations? How shall we love God with that perfect love which thus associates us with the redeemed, and makes us confident in the midst of all dangers? Love Divine has the same law of origin and of development as love human. We love a mother because she first loved us. We love God because He first loved us. And that long tutelage and care which the child receives fixes on its heart this sentiment of love. It grows with its growth, it strengthens with its strength; and were there no depravity, no stains on human nature, that love would grow up in all its beauty, strengthening from year to year. But let us look at some of the manifestations that God has given of Himself to develop this emotion of love in our hearts. And, first, in the works of creation around us, God has manifested Himself as the loving Creator. He hath placed us in a world framed for our enjoyment. Not only have we indications of God’s love around us in this creation, but we can rise higher as we come to the realm of mind. If I compare, step by step, as I advance: A child’s affection for a parent is increased by beautiful material arrangements made for the comfort of the child. The chamber, the furniture, the clothing, everything prepared by a father’s affection or a mother’s love, indicate to the child that affection. So, in these material arrangements, God tells us He loves us; and as we gaze on these arrangements, we ought to love God; but as the book of the mind opens up before us, how this care is multiplied! The thought of God strangely drops into our bosom. There is thought in animate beings. We take those animals that serve our comfort, that labour for us, that watch for us, and there are indications of thought evidently in them. They are made to serve, and their range of thought is exceedingly small. We are made to rule, and our thought seems to be almost limitless. How ought we to love God, in that He loved us so much as to give us this power! And then could He call us up while the great mass of us are all the time disposed to look downward! Man not loving God, not looking upward and outward, becomes sensual. He spends his time in feeding his body, in satisfying his appetites, and he forgets the realm of empire over nature, and over ideas, and over thoughts, that God opens out before him; and hence, without love of God, man is the animal; with love to God, he is the seraph; with love to God, he lives in His affections and rises toward glory; without love to God, he crawls like the worm; without love to God, he goes downward until he is ready to make his bed with demons; with love to God, he rises above angels and archangels, and is preparing for the throne of God. What a glorious provision, and how ought we to love God in that He loved us, and gave to us such prerogatives! But then, again, God hath not only given this mental power, this dominion of thought, this government of the lower world, but He hath given unto us an exalted spiritual nature. Now, this spiritual nature has in it this power: First, in looking at the objects of admiration, in seeing what God has done, reflecting toward Him gratitude; and, secondly, in reflecting that gratitude, growing into His image, and when that image is formed, becoming like God Himself in radiating light, and giving satisfaction to all around us, just as the eyes develop love. Now, as God develops in us this love from our first growing up into the likeness of God, as our hearts are grateful, we recognise Him to be the grand idea, the perfect pattern; our souls long for His image, we want to be like God in the development of this love, we long to be changed into His image, and we are changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Oh, as we grow up into the image of the Master, then we would be like Him in action, imitating Him; and this brings up in our hearts the desire to do good to others. Oh, were all men filled with love to God, this earth would be quite on the verge of heaven; tears would be wiped away by some soft hand; darkness would be illuminated by the smile of love; wants would be provided for by the supply of affectionate charity; and this earth would bear the impress of being the footstool of God. We love Him in the origin of our love; we love Him in the law of the development of our love; we love Him in the manifestation of love as we grow into His likeness. But this law of Divine love is not like that of human love, merely in its origin; it is like it in the means of its growth. Human love increases, as we know, most perfectly the object of that love, if the being be entirely lovable. In God there is no blemish. The more we can know of Him, not only do we love Him better, as we love our friends, but there is no drawback to that love. In Him is love without blemish--no selfishness, no defect; and hence the more we know of God, the better we must love Him. (M. Simpson, D. D.)
The genesis of love
When we read one of the writings of St. John the Divine it is as if one heard strange and beautiful music, and for the moment our mind is filled with the sound of composed emotions. First, we are lifted above this earth, and taken, with that eagle eye, into the blue above where old things have passed away and all things have become new. We next become conscious of the things that have before haunted us, the vague thoughts that have entered into our minds, the unfulfilled desires that were ever eluding our grasps, and the ideals which have floated before our imaginations; and we see for the first time what before we had only imagined--the perfect shape of heavenly and spiritual beauty. And then, after that, we become conscious of something else, and that is our own unloveliness and our own imperfection. But I find that the last feeling left upon one’s mind, if one is in a healthy state, is this: a great longing to be rid of one’s own self, and to be lifted up and made like God. You see, St. John is the master of the philosophy of love, and there is one question I should like to ask you. How can a person create love if love does not exist? And if it does, how can a person increase it? If there be no fire at all upon my cold hearth, how shall I light it? And if there be a flicker of flame upon the cold ashes, how shall I bring it to a blaze? It is a very difficult question. No person, for instance, can love by an act of will. I can, by an act of will, lift my arm, because my arm is moved by voluntary muscles. I cannot, by an act of will, make my heart beat. And neither I, nor any other man, nor all men together, shall be able to make it give one beat more on some future day fixed upon by the Divine will. I will to love, but what follows? I find I cannot love. “Love is not a duty, but a virtue.” That is why love can never be commanded. Before you can obey, you must have love. Now I turn to St. John, and he just meets my question about how love can be created. It is with love exactly as with life. Life cannot spring into existence, it must be communicated. It is exactly the same thing with regard to love. You cannot make the black coals on your hearth burst into flame until you apply a light. If you want to love, you must wait till love comes from without. There is just one source of love, and that is God. And there can be no love in the human heart till the love of God comes in and creates it there. Ii must come by a genesis, not by spontaneous generation. We love because God has first loved us. What He means is this: there may be a great many secondary and important reasons and causes for love, but there is only one Source of love in the whole universe, just as to this world there is only one source of heat. Remove any human soul from the perpetual consciousness of the Divine and Fatherly love, you have got no love in that soul. Now let me illustrate this spiritual truth, first from the reverse side. Take a street arab. How do you expect he can be approached? Leave him alone. He will then become an outcast, a vagabond, perhaps a murderer. Now ask yourselves this question, How is it that this man is a curse to himself and a danger to society? Ask yourselves another question, Was he ever loved? His father--why his father kicked him when he came across him, and swore at him as a nuisance! His mother sent him out to beg as soon as he could stand. His companions, in Court No. 6, off Street So-and-so, why they were just young savages, and they treated him like a savage! Depend upon it, if you deny a human being his natural rights, if you treat him with injustice, and disregard all his feelings, you will turn him into a fiend. Why should he not? He cannot help it; it is the constitution of human nature, he hates because he is hated. Now there is the other side. Take the opposite product of our civilisation. Nothing, I suppose, is more beautiful than the way in which some boys are trained. They are then natural boys; ay, spiritual boys too! A boy comes home from school after morning lessons; the first thing he asks is, “Where is mother?” Not because he wants her, but just to take her hand to tell her what has happened at school. If she is not at home he is miserable. And if she goes away for a little he is never happy till she returns. What is the reason? “It is natural,” you say, “because he loves her.” What do you mean by “natural”? Do you mean that there is a little germ of love in every human heart? I believe that, too, whether it is nurtured or not. Do you believe it still lives? In some homes the boys are happier when they are away at school. “How that boy does love his mother!” Well, what do you argue from that? I argue that his mother first loved him. The mother shone on him, now he shines on her. The sun gave out its heat, now the earth gives out its heat. “A capital son that to his mother!” He does not think so. She is getting in her old age what she gave before. Again, if you see a man that is pleasant and kind to everybody, men like that man. He never says a mean thing about anyone. Do not praise him too much. Pass it back! He has had a good mother, a good father. Do not praise the tropics because the fruit is there. The arctic regions might have done as well if they had had as much sun. We will “love Him because He first loved us.” Let us see how this applies in the sphere of religion. If a man believes that God is, but never has got the length of believing that God is love, then I do not expect much from that man. I expect him to be uncharitable, narrow, not particularly generous in his feelings. The Pharisee did not believe that God was love, so he did not love. He could not help it any more than the arctic regions can help being frozen. Now you turn to the other side. Why, how the children loved Jesus! Why, how all kinds of people followed Jesus! Because He was lovable; because He loved. We are getting on now. Why did Jesus love as no person has ever loved yet, or ever can love again? Because He could not help it. St. John tells us that He “lay in the bosom of the Father,” where all is love. Now this law of St. John throws a marvellous light upon many events. The devotion of some people in the history of the world is quite beyond explanation unless you understand St. John’s principle. There is one of the saints whose life was so beautiful that the story of it is one of the most wonderful that ever was written. The beasts of the field all loved him; all living things loved him. You may call it legend, but I do not see any limit to the possibilities of human love. I cannot tell what might have followed if that man had lived. When all creation is reconciled it will be through the reconciliation of love. Francis Xavier was ordained for the salvation of the East, and he used to cry out in his prayers, “Give me more suffering that men may be saved.” It seems marvellous; but it is not marvellous when you know that the love of God burned inside that man’s heart just like a flame from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. (J. Watson, M. A.)
The love of God reciprocated
I. The love of God.
1. Its antiquity.
2. Its sovereignty.
3. It is displayed in Christ.
4. It has ever been a love of complacency and delight.
5. It is unchangeable and everlasting.
II. The character of the Christian’s love to God.
1. It is not natural to man.
2. It is caused or produced by the love of God.
3. It is influenced by the love of God.
4. It is manifested in various ways.
(1) It boldly professes Christ before the world.
(2) It manifests anxious solicitude and suitable exertions to advance Christ’s kingdom in the world.
(3) It constrains to the consecration of our talents to God’s service.
(4) It readily makes sacrifices when necessary.
(5) It is manifested by loving that which God loves.
5. Love to God is necessary. (Pulpit Themes.)
Love for love
I. Christians cherish great affection for Christ. “We love Him.”
1. It is implied that they are an exception to others. The majority of the human race either ignore or oppose Christ.
2. It is implied that there was a time when they did not. Religion is not inherent. It is an after production.
3. It is implied that they are fully conscious of their love.
4. It is implied that it is personal. “We love Him”--not His gifts, but Himself.
II. Christians cherish great affection for Christ because of His greater affection for them. “Because He first loved us.” Natural if we consider--
1. The greatness of the Lover.
2. The wretchedness of the loved.
3. The wonderfulness of the love.
(1) Gracious in its source.
(2) Sovereign in its initiation.
(3) Infinite in its sacrifice.
(4) Unchangeable in its power.
(5) Unspeakable in its benefits.
1. Jesus continues to love.
2. He loves all.
3. All should love Him. (B. D. Johns.)
God’s love the cause of ours
Reciprocity is the crown of love. And although it may be absent in one case or another, we cannot use the word “love,” except metaphorically, in any field which does not admit of its possible reciprocation. Any injunction to love God, therefore, will sound abstract and unreal, till we remember that its cause and condition is that “He first loved us.” God’s condescension, not man’s aspiration, is the beginning of religious life. There have been times when the sense of the Divine oppressed men, and led to superstition. But such times are not ours. The world of the present day believes, but does not tremble. It thinks, and speaks, and acts, and goes about its business as if our race were, for practical purposes, self centred and alone. Many causes have contributed to this. The psychological character of our philosophy, leading to agnosticism; our overestimate of liberty, with its attendant shadow self-assertion, to the comparative neglect of obedience, humility, reverence and awe; the splendid spectacle of our vast achievements in mechanism and science--have all tended to reinforce the natural pride of the human heart. It needs, therefore, a very real effort to bear constantly in mind the fact that we are creatures, and that our nearest relation is our Creator. If we turn, then, to the Divine share in the development of our faculties, we shall see that what we call our action may be better described as God’s attraction, and that we advance in exact proportion as we let ourselves be led by Him. We are the creatures, science tells us, of our environment. Yes; but the reason why we are so is that our true environment is God. Take the instance of the will. The denial of its freedom is only a parody of the truth that it must be developed by external law. The laws of nature, the laws of society, the laws of conscience, if we obey them, slowly determine our wills towards that uniform course of conduct which constitutes our character. The character of the scientific, the civilised, the moral man is formed by successive acts of more or less difficult obedience to a particular class of laws. We do not form ourselves, we are conformed to the law; and by every step in that conformity our true freedom is enlarged. And what is this but saying that God, the Source of all law, is for ever at work, attracting our wills into harmony with His will, increasing our liberty, and expanding our capacities, in proportion as that harmony grows more complete; teaching us to see, in what once seemed relentless forces, tokens of His truthfulness, His holiness, His love. The same is the case with our minds. We study a great author, and in doing so, as the phrase goes, make his thoughts our own. But in reality it is he who throws the spell of his personality upon us, and makes our thoughts his. So with all other mental objects, the course of the stars, the laws of mathematics, chemical properties, mechanical forces--they are there, they exist before us; we do not create, we only discover them. Our intellect grows with nourishment, but the nourishment must be given from without. Knowledge, therefore, rightly viewed, is the progressive acceptance of revelation; and thence the moral qualities which we see that it involves. So, too, our power of loving is drawn into activity from without. The tenderness of our mother, our father’s protecting pride, the warmhearted affections of the companions of our youth, bodily beauty, nobleness of life, sanctity of soul--all these draw the heart out of us, and teach us what it is to love. But who created them all, and endowed them with their loveliness? God, that He might draw us with the cords of a man, with bands of love. The love of God for us once realised has a constraining power that compels us to return it with all our heart, and soul, and mind. But such realisation never can be ours till our faculties are duly disciplined. Only the heart that knows what true love is can read the indications of God’s love for us aright. Only the mind that is directed upward can teach the heart that heavenly knowledge. Only the will that has learned obedience can give the mind its true direction. We must will in order to know, and know in order to love, before we can consciously enter within the sphere of the Divine attraction. There remains the crowning evidence that He first loved us. He gave Himself for us. The Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme appeal to our love, because it is the supreme proof of His. And yet there are many earnest theists in the present day willing enough to trace the signs of a Divine presence in the universe, but inconsistently stopping short of a belief in the Incarnation. For it is an inconsistent stoppage on the part of any real theist, since God, who is conceived of as caring for His creatures, must be supposed to reveal Himself in ways suiting their capacity; and an Incarnation, as many a pre-Christian thinker saw, would be the reasonable culmination of such ways of self-revealing. There is evidence enough of God’s love for us in the beauty of the world, the beneficence of nature, and all the joy of human intercourse. It is only when we come to the dark sad side of life that our faith begins to fail. And here the Incarnation takes up the thread of proof, not by removing the problem of the mystery of sorrow from our minds, but by revealing God Himself as willing to bear it with and for us, and so enabling our hearts to feel it the crowning testimony of His love. The soul that has reached this certitude needs no other motive to ensure its obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” (J. R. Illingworth, M. A.)
Love more attractive than light
What is the force that draws men? Somebody says it is light. But men are not all drawn to Christ by light; they are sometimes driven from Him by it. By all means let people have their board schools and so on, but do not imagine that that will ever do the work of the Church. No, Christ must do that. Have you noticed that, in this brush we are having with the Egyptians, Arabi Pasha promised not to go on with the earth works? But when the sun went down, there were the fellows with their barrows hard at work. Admiral Seymour one night turned the electric light on the gentle men, and there they were. But they did not at once put down their barrows and their spades and go away home, feeling very much ashamed at being detected. They rather kept on working day and night. Sometimes when men get light, they rebel against it, and use the truth they have learned as an instrument to their detriment. That has often happened. I would, if I could, turn the electric light on some men’s minds and let them see themselves; but I know that in many cases it would increase responsibility and increase hostility, and it would not win the soul. How, then, are men won to Christ? It is by the force of love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Creed and life
“Religion is not a creed, but a life.” We will venture to put two little words into that sentence, “Religion is not only a creed, but also a life.” Is not this nearer the truth?
1. In religion there is a creed. “He first loved us.”
2. In religion there is a life. “We love Him.”
3. In religion there is a life because there is a creed. “We love because He loved.” (C. Clemance, D. D.)
If we want to know just what the apostle meant when he used these words we must refer to other verses in this Epistle.
1. One of these gives us love’s expression. “He sent His Son, the propitiation for our sins.”
2. We have love’s object. “He first loved us.”
3. We have love’s intensity. “Herein is love.”
4. We have love’s achievements. “Behold, what manner of love,” etc. (1 John 3:1).
5. We have love’s ultimate intentions. “It doth not yet appear,” etc. (1 John 3:2). (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Every Christian grace is some form or other of love. Repentance is love--grieving. Faith is love--leaning. Hope is love--expecting. Courage is love--daring. Patience is love--waiting. And so on through all the list of Christian virtues. And thus we see how it is that a man has just as much religion as he has love and no more. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Paganism and Christianity
We find indications of the Pagans fearing their gods, dreading them, trying to appease their wrath by sacrifices and offerings, being very much obliged to their gods if they gave them a good harvest, and so on; but nowhere can we recall any indications of a Pagan loving his god! And why? Because the Pagans never knew of God loving them! (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Our love the reflex of God’s
And as the reflected beams of the sun are weaker than the direct, so are our affections weaker than God’s. (J. Trapp.)
Richard Baxter’s prayer
Draw my soul to Thyself by the secret power of Thy love, as the sunshine in the spring draws forth the creatures from their winter cells; meet it half way, and entice it to Thee, as the loadstone doth the iron, and as the greater flame attracts the less. (R. Baxter.)
Doctrine and morals
God first loved us is the summary of Christian doctrine; we love Him is the summary of Christian morality. (Luthardt.)
The Christian’s love
I can think of no better illustration of the relation of the Christian’s love to the love of God, than that which is afforded by the contemplation of the rising spray from the Falls of Niagara. Who that has stood beside that mighty cataract, and looked upon the water pouring in a thundering torrent over that stupendous precipice, and watched the mist as it floats upward and backward over the Falls, and outward over the river and land, has not been charmed and filled with holy admiration as he has contemplated this parable in nature? That mighty torrent, pouring itself with ceaseless and exhaustless energy, day and night, into the river below, is what the love of God is to sinners. Who can measure it? Who can estimate it? The thin, and yet beautiful spray, arising from the foot of the Falls, is just a little of these same waters going back in grateful acknowledgment to the source whence they came. So is the believers’ love to God. It is the rebound of His own love--only a little, yea, only an infinitesimal portion given back to Him who so loved us. As the spray does not rise by any forced effort of its own, so the believer, who stands under the Niagara of God’s love poured out through Christ, will not have to make an effort to love God; his love will ascend without effort. (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)
Action and reaction between God and man
You have seen a flowering plant unfold itself under the kindly rays of the morning sun. It eagerly drank in the heat and life that came to it in each rill of celestial fire, and opened itself more and more fully as the beams grew in strength, until at length its whole being seemed to go forth in a glad return of fragrance and beauty. That plant, in its relation to the sun, was a type or symbol, in the material world, of the action and reaction that pass between God and man in the spiritual realm. Analyse the symbol and you observe--
1. That in the nature of the plant there must be a certain affinity with the sun and his rays. But for that the sun might shine for ever, and produce no more vital effect on the plant than he does on a stone.
2. That the plant does not find the sun, but the sun the plant. Initial action proceeds from the sun--the plant at first is only passive and receptive.
3. That what the sun sends down is energy, not instruction how or where to get it, but energy, life, direct and simple.
4. That the life thus radiated evokes responsive action. The plant lifts its head, expands every leaf and petal, follows the sun wherever he goes, and spends itself in works of fragrant beauty in praise of Him who rescued it from darkness and decay. (P. H. Steenstra, D. D.)
1 John 4:20-21
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar
The lesson is taught with peculiar force which is deserving of attention. The several clauses of the text are so constructed as to cast light upon it. “A man may say, I love God.” He may say it and think it, and yet not do it. In that case he is self-deceived. Or he may say it and not think it. In such a case he is a hypocrite. In the midst of such self-deception or hypocritical profession the man “may hate his brother.” The man who so speaks and acts is pronounced to be “a liar.” There is an entire inconsistency between what he says and does. His conduct towards men is a contradiction to his profession toward God. An argument is next used to prove the inconsistency of professing love to God, while hatred is indulged to men. “He that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” This is assumed to be an impossibility. And it really is so. His brother is the child of God. Can I love a man and hate his child? My brother is to me the representative of God, and in hating him I hate God. To confirm the argument, it is added, “and this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.” We say we love God. Of that love the great proof is that “we keep His commandments.” But one of His commandments is, that we love one another.
II. The incompatibility of the love of God with the hatred of men. It is to be feared that, in this matter, a widespread delusion prevails among men. Many say they love God who are seen to hate men. It may be well, therefore, to notice some of the principal forms under which this incongruity has appeared in both past times and the present.
1. A remarkable example of it may be seen in the national spirit that prevailed among the Jews in the time of our Lord and His apostles. The Jew said he loved God, and yet he was injurious to men. And so far did this spirit prevail that it formed the national character in the time of our Lord.
2. This habit, however, did not arise out of anything peculiar to Judaism; for, it may be observed next, that it is found to prevail in all unenlightened nations. The Mussulman, out of zeal for God, as he alleges, goes forth with his sword to demand subjection from all men; and, when he has the power, to plunge it into the bosom of anyone who dares to resist him. It is the same under other and more aggravated forms in nations that are purely heathen. The Hindoo, out of zeal for God, refuses to eat with his brother of another caste, lest he should be defiled. The Chinaman has been taught from his infancy to reckon all men barbarians beyond the boundaries of his own land. All heathen people entertain the same idea of religion. They regard it as a service of certain forms due to God; but which, it never occurs to them, is designed to regulate their deportment toward one another. The love of God, prompting love to mankind, is nowhere to be found, even as a theory, among men devoid of revelation. Greece and Rome, at the height of their enlightenment, made no such discovery. It is humiliating to see the vanity of their worship, which was neither intended riot fitted to influence their conduct toward men. We may suppose it to be an easy thing to see the connection between the love of God and the love of man. But we should remember we are indebted for the knowledge of it entirely to the Divine Word.
3. But alas! even where the light of revelation shines, this simple truth has been sadly obscured. Men have thought that, because they had been born and lived within certain geographical boundaries, they were not required to seek the good, but rather the injury of those beyond them. They have engaged in the most savage attacks upon one another in the name of religion. How necessary it is that the nations should learn the lesson of the text--“that he who loveth God love his brother also.”
4. We may go for another illustration beyond the nations of the earth, and fix upon the Christian churches themselves. In some we discover the most uncharitable zeal for their doctrines. They construct a system which they hold is founded on the Word of God, and agreeable to it. Admit that it is so. Its views, they maintain, are essential to salvation. Admit that they are so. Forthwith they proceed to denounce all who do not see with them eye to eye. We have need to be watchful lest our love for God, in maintaining His truth, should degenerate into bitterness against men. In others, again, we discern the uncharitableness of sect. We may go further, and find an example even among those who hold the same truths, and worship in the same sanctuary. We may profess love to God in His ordinance, and yet be indulging ill-will to our brother. Worse than that, we may do him much injury. We may injure him in his good name, in his property, in his peace, and still maintain the profession of love for God. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
Love to God promotive of love to man
There is an element of Christian ethics present in the Gospels, and everywhere attributed to Jesus, which we scarcely find at all in the Epistles. It is the setting up of an antagonism between duty to God and the claims of natural affection. It will, I think, be profitable to inquire whether our duty to God and our love of Him ought ever to override our duty to our families and our natural affection for our nearest and dearest relations. Turning over the leaves of that flesh-bound revelation, we find our home love to be the most precious, most redeeming, most sanctifying of all our spiritual treasures. According to our possession of family love our home is either our heaven or our hell. But love is much more than this--it is our real moral teacher. It is at home that our characters are formed for fatherly, motherly, sisterly, and brotherly lives in the outer world. And how love purifies and restrains! Who, looking back on his past life, cannot remember the many times when he would have fallen before temptation but for the love he bore to his father or mother, or wife or children? Last of all, our actual possession and exercise of love is our only key to the knowledge of the love of God. From this springs all true religion, all true worship of the Father in heaven, and all service acceptable to Him. So I read in our poor human hearts this sublime truth. Love is our highest bliss, our best guide to duty, our strongest impulse to perform it, the most efficient cultivator of a noble character, our surest defence in the face of temptation, and the highest revelation of God Himself. And now I venture to affirm that our duty to God never does conflict with our duty to each other. And why? It needs no argument. It is the very principle of religious morality that our duty to God consists mainly in our duty to each other. We can render to Him no service at all but in and through the service of our brethren who are His children. Our love to God never yet weakened--nay, it has evermore strengthened--our family love. The more conscientious we have become in the discharge of what we thought to be our duty to God, the more loving and faithful we have been to our dear ones at home. (C. Voysey.)
The great commandment
We enter the family circle now. It has become a very large family, and is destined to become still larger, till it includes all the families of the earth. Whether large or small, there is one grand principle which is to flow through the hearts of all its members, and to constitute a bond which neither time nor eternity can dissolve. That one principle is mutual love. Nothing else can take its place. Nothing else can do its work.
I. It will be well for us to look a little carefully at the person for whom this love is claimed--our brother. Our brother, in the New Testament, has a new and definite meaning. It is not our neighbour, as such. To a Jew, it was not his fellow Jew. Nor is it necessarily the son of our own father and mother. There may be many such sons whom, alas! we cannot regard in this high sense as our brothers. There are those who come nearer to us as Christians, and are endeared to us by stronger ties. The elements of the union between us, and which constitute them our brethren, are altogether peculiar. The first of these is faith in our common Saviour. From the moment that faith is exercised a new set of conditions spring up. We have parted company with the world, and shall soon find that we have forfeited its love and its sympathy. Then the faith which unites us to Christ unites us to all who are thus united to Him. And that irrespective of all external differences. Another of these elements is regeneration by the same Spirit. And now there opens before us another view of our subject, although necessarily glanced at already. Our Creator has become not only our God, but our Father. Further, our heavenly Father has embraced us all alike in the arms of His adopting grace.
II. We shall next have to enter into some of the reasons why this love is required. And we need hardly insist on the fact that all the reasons why we are called upon to love our neighbour obtain, and obtain with redoubled force, here. The ethics of the Second Table are not abrogated by the great law of brotherly love. Nay, those ethics are carried up to a higher plane, and enforced by sanctions of a higher order. Then He bases this precept on the deep ground of His own love to us. “As I have loved you.” We can understand how He can have loved others. But us? There is the difficulty. Yet we have tits own word for it, and that ought to be enough; and most persuasive in its eloquence. Learn from this unique example of My love to you to love one another. My love to you has been unmerited, disinterested, self-sacrificing, all-enduring. Let your love to each other take this as its pattern. “Love one another as I have loved you.” It will also be seen that the claim of our brother to our love is founded on our love to God. “And this commandment have we from Him, that He who loveth God, love his brother also.” John, however, touches the deepest foundations of all for this demand in the tenth and eleventh verses of this same chapter. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
III. There must be some practical methods available for the unequivocal manifestation of this brotherly love. Love to our brother is not a mere profession. Nor will this association be a mere formal and external thing; but we shall be led into real and intimate fellowship of heart and spirit with our brother. Readiness to sympathise with and help will, in like manner, present itself as an evidence and display of this love. Love can withhold nothing from its object. The love in question will at the same time lead to mutual charity and forbearance.
IV. A cursory glance at the great importance of the principle which it has been our earnest desire to inculcate. And let us begin at home. We have a deep personal interest in this matter. Nothing tends more to promote our own happiness, profit, and usefulness than that love which we owe to our fellow Christians. It fills the heart with sunshine, if the Church is ever to become the power for good in the world which she was intended to be, this will be the secret and fountain of her strength. Beside and above all these considerations, the honour of our Divine Lord and Head is bound up with this matter. Nothing pleases Him so much as the love which should unite all His disciples together in one close but grand confraternity. Nothing can furnish so powerful a demonstration of the might and benignity of His truth. Nothing can present so worthy and influential an exhibition of His character. (J. Drew.)
Love to God produces love to man
When God comes to man, man looks round for his neighbour. (Geo. Macdonald, LL. D.)
“He’s my brother”
Dr. Macgregor met in a great Scotch city a little girl carrying in her arms a baby, so bonny that she fairly staggered under its weight. “Baby’s heavy, isn’t he, dear?” said the doctor. “No,” replied the winsome bairn, “he’s not heavy; he’s my brother.” (U. R. Thomas, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 John 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29