Great Texts of the Bible
God’s Own Love
But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.—Romans 5:8.
1. Why does the Cross of Jesus Christ win our devotion? What is the attraction by which it draws us and holds us to Him? It is because of the supreme expression which it gives to the love of God. “While we were yet sinners,” provoking only the Divine displeasure, God places beyond all doubt, “commends,” i.e. proves, the depth and the strength of His love towards us by persevering in His purpose to compass our salvation even to the sacrifice of His dear Son.
2. So love is the starting-point. Faith requires a starting-point from which to pursue its course, a fundamental idea on which to build, an underlying ultimate cause, in which, as in Calvary’s rock, to plant the Cross. Deny this to faith, and faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified becomes a vague and fitful conception, floating about a cross which is rather a figure of speech than a fixed and unalterable reality. The soul hungers to find that starting-point. It cannot take Jesus Christ and Him crucified as an incident, an afterthought, an heroic rescue devised in an emergency. It feels instinctively that the Cross must be the result of some deeper cause. It demands to be led to that deeper cause, that it may make it the starting-point of thought. Such a starting-point is provided in the formula: The Atonement not the cause of God’s Love, but Love the cause of the Atonement.
The Atonement is the expression on earth of a love that filled God’s heart from the beginning. The Atonement is God’s self-giving to save us from the holy wrath under which our sins have brought us. The love of the holy God is the starting-point from which to think one’s way up to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Begin there, with the knowledge that God is love. Be sure that a holy God loves you. Be sure that because He is holy, His wrath, the indignant, sorrowful wrath of holy love, is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Be sure that that tremendous love has expressed itself in sacrificial suffering to save you from that tremendous wrath. Take these thoughts, put them together, and realise two facts: the nature of sin, the Person of Christ. Realize the nature of sin; it is a scorn of the Atonement, a contempt of God’s supreme declaration of love, a delivering over of one’s self to wrath, the wrath which is, because God is holy. Realize the Person of Christ. Behold in Him the Holy God whose wrath is revealed against sin, suffering in the flesh for love, to save from that wrath. Realize the Godhead of Christ. Grasp the sense in which Christ declares the Unity of Godhead when He says: “I and my Father are one;” and realizing the Unity of the Godhead, bow before the Cross as before a throne.1 [Note: C. C. Hall.]
Perhaps we do not yet know what the word “to love” means. There are within us lives in which we love unconsciously. To love thus means more than to have pity, to make inner sacrifices, to be anxious to help and give happiness; it is a thing that lies a thousand fathoms deeper, where our softest, swiftest, strongest words cannot reach it. At moments we might believe it to be a recollection, furtive but excessively keen, of the great primitive unity.2 [Note: Maurice Maeterlinck.]
God’s own Love
God commends or proves His own love. It is a love which, like all that belongs to that timeless, self-determining Being, has its reason and its roots in Himself alone. We love because we discern the object to be lovable. God loves by the very necessity of His nature. Like some artesian well that needs no pumps or machinery to draw up the sparkling waters to flash in the sunlight, there gushes up from the depths of His own heart the love which pours over every creature that He has made. He loves because He is God.
Like life, love is of many kinds. There is a love that ennobles and casts a radiance upon life. There is a love that drags the lover down into the mouth of hell. There is a love that many waters cannot quench. There is a love that is disguised lust. What kind of love is God’s own love?
1. It is a righteous love. Some of the saddest tragedies in human life spring from the moral weakness of the deepest love. Love is the mother of all tenderness, and tenderness shrinks instinctively from what is stern or rigorous. So love often becomes a minister of ruin. How many a mother, who would have laid down her life for her son, she loved him so, has only helped him down the road to ruin by the immoral weakness of her love. How many a father, to spare the bitter agony of punishing his child, has let his child grow up unchastened. Such love as that is fatal. Sooner or later it tarnishes the thought of fatherhood in the child’s eyes. For in his view of fatherhood the child can find no place now for earnest hatred of the wrong, and passionate devotion to the right; and so the image that, full of moral beauty, should have inspired him through all life’s journey, is robbed of its ennobling power by its unrighteous weakness. And if out of the page of history you wipe the atoning death on Calvary, you carry that tragedy of weakness into the very heavens. Blot out the Cross, and I, a child of heaven, can never be uplifted and inspired by the thought of the Divine Fatherhood again. Yes, I have sinned, and know it. I deserve chastisement and death; I know it. And shall my Father never whisper a word of punishment? and never breathe His horror at my fall? And will He love me, and be kind to me right through it all without a word of warning? I tell you, the moment I could believe that, the glory of the Divine Fatherhood is tarnished for me, God’s perfect law of goodness and awful hatred of the wrong are dimmed; and all the impulse and enthusiasm these Divine passions bring sink out of my life for ever. But when I turn to Calvary, and to that awful death, I see a love as righteous as it is wonderful.1 [Note: G. H. Morrison.]
Love grows out of holiness, and holiness in its turn flows out of love, and they cannot exist apart. A father loves; and just in proportion to his love is his pain when the children of his love do wrong; no other pain can be like that pain; no disappointed affection, no separation to distant lands, no loss by death, can cut the soul with the same wound as the wrong-doing of one on whom the heart is set. A father who sees a loved child dishonour all his love, a sister who sees the brother whom she admires disgracing the picture of him that her mind had drawn, the mother who watches with agony the son of her affections cast himself away on profligate pleasures, is thrilled with a part whose bitterness stands quite alone. Such pains as these are the measure of that wrath with which God, our Father, tells us that He regards our sins. But in spite of wrath He is still our Father, and still He draws us by the cords of an infinite love back to Himself again.1 [Note: F. Temple.]
I cannot tell you the delight that I have found in thinking of God’s love to man as a disapproving love. Man confounds love and approbation, or love and interestedness. Thus a man loves those whom he thinks well of, or who are necessary to his happiness. But God’s love acknowledges and demands nothing either amiable or serviceable in its objects. The love of my God is not diminished by His disapprobation of me. There is something remarkable in Christ’s substitution for Barabbas in a way more especial than for any other individual, that he might be an example of those for whom He died.2 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine, i. 153.]
2. It is a self-sacrificing love. It is a love that thought no sacrifice too great. The surest test of love is sacrifice. We measure love as we should measure her twin-brother life, “by loss, and not by gain, not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured forth.” Look at the mother with her child. She sacrifices ease and sleep, and she would sacrifice life, too, for her little one, she loves her baby so. Think of the patriot and his country. He counts it joy to drain his dearest veins, he loves his land so well. Recall the scholar at his books. Amusements, intercourse, and sleep, he almost spurns them. His love for learning is so deep he hardly counts them loss. Yes, in the willingness to sacrifice all that is dearest lies the measure of noblest love. Turn now to Calvary, turn to the Cross, and by the sight of the crucified Redeemer there, begin to learn the greatness of God’s love.
God is holy. He is without sin. He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, but He can sympathize with sinners. With all the vicarious passion of undying love, He enters into our experience, shares our woe and sorrow, our despair and remorse; and tastes our sin. Just as one suffers for and with his child in trouble, so does God with His children. Thus we find ourselves in the Godhead. Thus a great love bridges the chasm between God’s holiness and man’s guilt. Love spreads its white wings and flies across the abyss. That flight neither tires nor frightens love. Indeed love effaces the chasm.
Recently in New York City a baby’s life was saved through the transfusion of blood from the body of the father into that of his child. The operation was one of the most remarkable of its kind and has excited the keen interest of many outside the medical profession. Because of the delicate and dangerous character of the operation, it was impossible to use either anæsthetics or a connecting tube uniting the body of father and child. When the operation began the child was in a dying condition, and before the operation was finished, to ordinary appearances, it was dead. The father’s arm was opened from the wrist to the elbow and a vein lifted out. An opening was then made in the child’s leg and the blood-vessels of parent and offspring stitched together. An attending surgeon said to the father, “Does it hurt?” With a face livid with pain he said, “It hurts like hell, but if I can save the baby, what of it?” At last everything was ready for the red tide from the father’s heart to enter the apparently lifeless little body lying across his slashed arm; and the instant the blood rushed into the child’s body it revived. What had been practically a dead body was quickened.1 [Note: J. I. Vance, Tendency, 73.]
3. It is a love for sinners. It is here that, wide as the poles, God’s love stands separate from all the love of men. “God commendeth his love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God longs to love me into something lovable. But not for anything lovable in me did He love me first. While I was yet a sinner He loved me. While I hated Him He loved me. While I was fighting against Him, in the rebellious years, He loved me. If we love Him, it is because He first loved us. Such causeless love is wonderful, passing the love of women.2 [Note: G. H. Morrison.]
God is gracious and merciful, as the Scriptures show. He loves even real sinners. Yea, to the blind, hard world, which lieth in the wicked one, He has sent as a Saviour His own Son. I could not have done that, and yet I am a real sinner myself.3 [Note: Luther.]
A prominent Sunday-school worker, who was accustomed, in former years, to visit Sunday-schools, and to address the little ones there, sometimes startled the little folks in the primary department, and even their teachers, by his unlooked-for questions and statements. “What kind of children does God love?” he would ask. “Good children,” “Good children,” would come back the answer from the confident little ones in every part of the room. “Doesn’t God love any children but good children?” the visitor would ask. “No, sir,” would be the hearty response. Then the visitor would startle or shock the little ones, and sometimes their teacher, by saying plainly and deliberately: “I think that God loves bad children very dearly.” At this, some of the surprised little ones would draw up their mouths, and perhaps exclaim, “Oh!” Others would simply stare in bewilderment. Perhaps the teacher would have a look of wonder or regret, and wait for the next disclosure of ignorance or error on the speaker’s part. “Did I say that God loved to have little children bad?” was the visitor’s next question. “No, sir,” would come back from some of the startled little ones in a tone of relief. “No, I didn’t say that God loves to have children bad. God loves to have children good. He wants them to be very good,—as good as they can be. But when they are bad children God still loves them. God is very loving, and He keeps on loving little ones who don’t even love Him at all.” That would be a new idea to many of those little ones. And there is nothing that a child is quicker to catch, or gladder to receive, than a bright, new idea at any time. The average child would take in the thought suggested quicker and more willingly than the average teacher. Then the visitor would make the thought plainer to the pupils by an illustration. “Does your mother love you?” he would ask. Almost every child would promptly answer, “Yes, sir,” to that question. “Were you ever a bad child?” was the next home thrust. “Yes, sir,” would come back faintly from some. “Did your mother stop loving you then? Did you have to feel that there was no loving mother to go back to, because you were a bad child?” The child heart recoiled from that thought, knowing the mother heart too well to admit it. Then was the time to press the precious truth that God loves bad children more than the lovingest father or the lovingest mother in the world loves a child; that, even when the father and mother forsake a needy child, the Lord will take up that child tenderly. That Sunday-school worker found, in his wide field of observation, how common and how deep-seated is the idea that a child’s acceptance with God is rather because of the child’s lovableness than because of God’s lovingness. Nor is this fearful error to be found merely, or chiefly, among primary-class pupils and their teachers.1 [Note: H. C. Trumbull, Our Misunderstood Bible, 164.]
A poor ignorant woman had been ill-used by her husband, a worthless wretch. She had had to work hard for a precarious livelihood because he refused to work at all. Life was so hard and dark for her that she night have been excused for hating and scorning the man who had made it so. This was Calvary over again, you see; and this child of God was being crucified. The day came when the husband was sentenced to penal servitude for a crime against society. One day the person who tells the story met this woman helping a broken-down man along the street towards her home. It was the released convict, and he looked the brute he was. Her explanation of her action was, “You see, sir, Jim has no one but me now.”1 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]
An English clergyman was once preaching to a congregation of young people. During the discourse he narrated the story of a Russian nobleman who, with his wife and child, was driving through a forest. Soon they became aware by the frantic way in which the horses struggled and strained at the traces, as they sped along at a furious pace, that the animals feared some calamity. As the frightened steeds tore through a ravine and up a high hill, those in the carriage looked back fearfully, and across the white fields of snow on the hill they had left, they saw a black moving mass, and knew that a pack of ferocious wolves was following them. Every nerve was strained to reach the village, still a few miles distant; but the wolves drew nearer and nearer, and at last the coachman cut away the traces and set two of the leaders free, just as the wolves were approaching. The hungry pack turned its attention from the carriage to the unfortunate horses thus set free. They were speedily torn in pieces, and then, with their appetites whetted, the wolves continued their pursuit in full cry after the carriage, now some distance ahead. The coachman again felt the wolves approaching, but he could not sacrifice the two remaining horses. So he nobly volunteered to sacrifice himself, and imploring his master to take his place on the box as the only hope of saving his wife and daughter, the devoted servant descended and stood in the middle of the road, revolver in hand, attempting vainly, as he well knew, to bar the progress of the pack. The carriage dashed into the village. The nobleman sallied forth at once with a crowd of armed villagers in quest of the noble-hearted servant, whose voluntary sacrifice had saved three precious lives; but after beating back the wolves they found, as they had feared, that he had paid the price of his life for his devotion. “Now,” said the clergyman, pointedly addressing his hearers, “was that man’s devotion equal to the love of the Lord Jesus Christ?” A young girl in the audience, carried away with rapt interest in the story, answered clearly, “No, sir.” “Why not?” said the preacher. “Because,” replied the young girl, “that man died for his friends, but the Lord Jesus died for His enemies.”1 [Note: L. A. Banks.]
We need to have God’s own Love commended to us
1. “God commendeth his own love”—that is true and beautiful, but that is not all that the Apostle means. We “commend” persons and things when we speak of them with praise and confidence. If that were the meaning of the text it would represent the death of Christ as setting forth, in a manner to win our hearts, the greatness, the excellence, the transcendency, of God’s love. But there is more than that in the words. The expression here employed strictly means to set two things side by side, and it has two meanings in the New Testament, both derived from that original signification. It sometimes means to set two persons side by side, in the way of introducing and recommending the one to the other. It sometimes means to set two things side by side, in the way of confirming or proving the one by the other. It is used in the latter sense here. God not merely “commends,” but “proves,” His love by Christ’s death.
But “proves” is a cold word. It is addressed to the head. “Commends” is a warmer word. It is addressed to the heart. It is not enough to establish the fact that God loves. Arguments may be wrought in frost as well as in fire. But it is the heart that must be reached—through the head, indeed; but it is a small thing to be orthodox believers in a doctrine. Christ must be not only the answer to our doubts, but the Sovereign of our affections. Do we look on the death of Christ as a death for our sin? In the strength of the revelation that it makes of the love of God, do we front the perplexities, the miseries of the world, and the ravelled skeins of Providence with calm, happy faces? And—most important of all—do we meet that love with an answering love?2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
2. There are some attributes of God that need no proof. Some features of the Divine character are so universally conspicuous as to be self-evidencing. Think, for example, of God’s power. If we believe in God at all we need no argument to convince us of His power. The mighty forces that engirdle us all cry aloud of that. The chambers of the deep, the chariot of the sun, are stamped with it. The devastating march of the winter’s storm, and, none the less, the timely calling of all the summer’s beauty out of the bare earth—these things, and a thousand other things like these, teach us the power of God. We would not need the Cross if all that had to be proved was the Divine omnipotence. Or take the wisdom of God. Is any argument needed to assure us in general of that? Day unto day uttereth speech of it, and night unto night showeth forth its glory. Our bodies, so fearfully and so wonderfully made; our senses, linking us so strangely to the world without; our thought, so swift, so incomprehensible; and all the constancy of nature, and all the harmony of part with part, and all the obedience of the starry worlds, and all the perfections of the wayside weeds,—these things, and a multitude of things like these, speak to the thinking mind of the wisdom of the God with whom we have to do. That wisdom needs no formal proof. It is self-evidencing. We would not need the Cross if all that had to be proved was the wisdom of God.
3. But that God is a God of love has to be proved to men. For—
(1) Man does not naturally believe it. As a matter of fact, he is indisposed to believe it, he is disposed to doubt it. The great object of the great enemy of souls is to induce scepticism on this point, and not so much intellectual scepticism, as a practical habit of unbelief in it. Men, as a matter of fact, are disposed to listen to the malignant aspersions of God which are whispered into their ears by the great foe of God and man, and to take an altogether false and misleading view of the Divine character. A certain latent suspicion of God is at the root of human sin: a considerable number of persons do not think of God’s love towards them at all; and some of those who do think of it cannot bring themselves to believe that His love is a personal affection and is directed towards specific objects, that God regards each of us severally, just as though there were not another intelligent creature in the world for Him to regard.
Comparative mythology has taught a great many lessons, and amongst others this, that, apart from the direct or indirect influences of Christianity, there is no creed to be found in which the belief in a God of love, and in the love of God, is unfalteringly proclaimed, to say nothing of being set as the very climax of the whole revelation. If this were the place, one could pass in review men’s thoughts about God, and ask you to look at all that assemblage of beings before whom mankind has bowed down. What would you find? Gods cruel, gods careless, gods capricious, gods lustful, gods mighty, gods mysterious, gods pitying (with a contempt mingled with the pity) their sorrows and follies, but in all the pantheons there is not a loving god.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
(2) It is not self-evident in Nature. There are things in nature which make it hard to believe in the love of God. One is the tremendous struggle for existence that is ceaselessly waged among all living things. Man fights with man, and beast with beast; bird fights with bird, and fish with fish. To the seeing eye the world is all a battlefield, and every living creature in it is in arms, and fighting for its life. The watchword of nature is not peace, but war. The calmest summer evening, to him who knows old nature’s story, is only calm as the battlefield is calm where multitudes lie dead. Under that outward peace, which often, like a mantle, seems to enwrap the world, by night and day, on sea and land, the bloodiest of wars is being waged, creature, merciless and venomous, preying upon creature. For right to live, for room to grow, for food to eat, in grim and fearful silence the awful war goes on.
There may be some rarer spirits who, like Browning, can reason from the presence of power in Nature to the presence of love.
In youth I looked to these very skies,
And probing their immensities,
I found God there, his visible power;
Yet felt in my heart, amid all its sense
Of the power, an equal evidence
That his love, there too, was the nobler dower.
For the loving worm within its clod,
Were diviner than a loveless god
Amid his worlds, I will dare to say.2 [Note: J. Flew, Studies in Browning, 25.]
(3) The experiences of life do not prove it. There are the problems of human pain and sorrow and bereavement. Is it not very hard to reconcile these darker shadows with the light of heavenly love? What is the meaning of the suffering that seemed to fall so causelessly on her you loved? Can God be love, and never move a finger to ease your little child when he is screaming day and night in fearful agony? When in the sudden tornado a whole city is swept away; when from your arms your dearest joy is torn away; when those who would not harm a living creature are bowed for years under intolerable pain, and when the wicked and the coarse seem to get all they wish, who has not cried, “Can God be love if He permits all this? How can God say He loves me, and yet deal with me as I could never have the heart to deal with one I loved?” We have only to look into our own lives and to look round upon the awful sights that fill the world to make the robustest faith in the goodness and love of God stagger, unless it can stay itself against the upright stem of the Cross of Christ. Sentimentalists may talk, but the grim fact of human suffering, of wretched, helpless lives, rises up to say that there is no evidence broad and deep and solid enough, outside Christianity, to make it absolutely certain that God is love.
The things which to-day are our seeming friends, become to-morrow our real foes. The brook which this morning supplies us with the water of life and charms our ear by its babble, may to-morrow become a raging flood, and bring desolation to our fields and ruin to our homes. The sun in whose brightness and warmth we bask to-day, may in a short time scorch our fields, dry up our fountains, and thus become our destroyer. The clouds which spread such delicious coolness over our cities and plains and inspire us with new energy, may suddenly gather and blacken, and by their thunder and lightning lay us low with terror or blast our existence. Who in face of all this shall trust that
God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed?
In all ages men have had the feelings so beautifully expressed by Tennyson:
The Gods are hard to reconcile:
’Tis hard to settle order once again.
There is confusion worse than death,
Trouble on trouble, pain on pain,
Long labour unto aged breath,
Sore task to hearts worn out by many wars
And eyes grown dim with gazing on the pilot-stars.
(4) The conscience, when it is awake, protests against such a notion as this, that God is a God of love. For every one who honestly takes stock of himself, and conceives of God in any measure aright, must feel that the fact of sin has come in to disturb all the relations between God and man. And when once a man comes to say, “I feel that I am a sinful man, and that God is a righteous God; how can I expect that His love will distil in blessings upon my head?” there is only one answer—“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Whence has the world her magic power?
Why deem we death a foe?
Recoil from weary life’s best hour,
And covet longer woe?
The cause is Conscience—Conscience oft
Her tale of guilt renews:
Her voice is terrible though soft,
And dread of Death ensues.1 [Note: Cowper.]
God commends His own Love to us in that, while we were yet Sinners, Christ died for us
1. There are only two ways in which the human mind can get the assurance that love is not merely its own ideal, but in very deed the ultimate law and final goal of the world. The one way is that it should attain to such perfect insight into the course of the world’s history as to convince itself that, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, everything is really working together for good. The other way is that it should be inspired with a confidence in the Creator and Ruler of the world strong enough to enable it to feel sure that all must come right in the end, however dark and dense the clouds may be which now encompass Him and conceal His ways—in a word, the way of faith, which sings:
Still will we trust, though earth seem dark and dreary,
And the heart faint beneath His chastening rod;
Though rough and steep our pathway, worn and weary,
Still will we trust in God.
These are the only two ways open to us: the way of exact knowledge and the way of faith.
2. Now there appears to be at first a ready answer to the inquiry, How shall man be taught that God loves him? It will naturally suggest itself to our mind to reply, God has only to reveal Himself to us, He has only to appear in some form that we can apprehend, He has only to speak to us as God in terms that we can understand, leaving us no longer in any degree of uncertainty about His relations with us, but directly asserting this fact in a distinctly supernatural manner, and then we shall be persuaded readily enough of the truth. But here we are first brought face to face with the difficulty that, in order to make such a revelation of Himself, God would first of all have to contravene the fundamental principles of His government on earth. From that time forth we should be walking by sight, no longer by faith; and in ordering things thus He would also, so far as we can judge of the circumstances of the case, be withdrawing from us that splendid purpose, that grand design, in the fulfilment of which the human race is to reach its true destiny and receive its crown.
3. Other possible solutions might be offered. Of all the solutions, however, that might have occurred to us none such as this would ever have suggested itself. Not the boldest among us, not the most daring speculator, would have been presumptuous enough to suggest that God Himself should divest Himself of His Divine glory, should clothe Himself in human form, and give Himself up to take the place of guilty man, and to bear the burden of human sin; that God in His own Person as man, Himself at once human and Divine, should undergo the terrible penalty that sin deserved; that He, weighted with the overwhelming load of human guilt, should hang upon a felon’s tree, should submit to have His heart crushed and broken by that terrible burden; that He should die in agony, in order that He might demonstrate to all mankind, wherever the story of His passion went, what that so great love of God to man actually is, that love wherewith God loves the world and every man that He has made in it.
i. Christ died for us
1. The first thing, then, to know is that Christ died for us. It is not that He lived and died. It is that He died. We have not got within sight of the secret of Jesus, nor come near tapping the sources of His power, if we confine ourselves to His words and His teaching, or even to the lower acts of His gentle life. We must go to the Cross. It would have been much that He should have spoken with certitude and with sweetness else unparalleled of the love of God. But words, however eloquent, however true, are not enough for the soul to rest its weight upon. We must have deeds, and these are all summed up in “Christ died for us.”
For ofttimes Love must grieve;
For us content and willing to be sad,
It left the halls wherein they made it glad,
And came to us that grieved it; oft below
It hides its face because it will not show
The stain upon it. Now I feel its clear
Full shining eyes upon me, and I know
Soon I shall meet the kiss without the tear!1 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]
2. It is the death of Christ. God proves His love because Christ died. How so? God proved His love because Socrates died? God proved His love because some self-sacrificing doctor went into a hospital and died in curing others? God proved His love because some man sprang into the sea and rescued a drowning woman at the cost of his own life? Would such talk hold? Then how comes it that Paul ventures to say that God proved His love, because Jesus Christ died?
(1) It is the death of the Son of God. Where is the force of the fact of a man’s death to prove God’s love? Underlying that swift sentence of the Apostle there is a presupposition, which he takes for granted. “God was in Christ,” in such fashion that whatsoever Christ did was the revelation of God. There is no force of proof in the words of the text unless we come to the full belief, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”
Some great martyr dies for his fellows. Well, all honour to him, and the race will come to his tomb for a while, and bring their wreaths and their sorrow. But what bearing has his death upon our knowledge of God’s love towards us? None whatever, or at most a very indirect and shadowy one. We have to dig deeper down than that. “God commends his love … in that Christ died.” “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” And we have the right and the obligation to argue back from all that is manifest in the tender Christ to the heart of God, and say, not only, God so loved the world that he sent His Son, but to see that the love that was in Christ is the manifestation of the love of God Himself.
(2) It is the death of the Son of God for us. That “for us” implies two things: one the voluntary act of God in Christ in giving Himself up to the death, the other the beneficial effect of that death. It was on our behalf, therefore it was the spontaneous outgush of an infinite love. It was for us, in that it brought an infinite benefit. And so it was a token and a manifestation of the love of God such as nothing else could be.
During the great American civil war the Northern States had to resort to conscription to fill up the ranks thinned by carnage. There was a man drawn for the army who had a wife and children who were wholly dependent upon him; so you may suppose when the lot fell on him to go forth and fight his country’s battles there was great lamentation in his family; his wife was almost broken-hearted, and his children were weeping in sore distress. Shortly after this, however, a young man who had been a friend of his for many years, hearing that he had been drawn, came to see him, and of his own accord offered himself as a substitute. “I have made arrangements,” said he, “about my business, and I am going to the war in your place, to be your substitute. I have neither wife nor child, and if I die I shall leave no helpless friends behind me to struggle on in a weary world without comfort or support.” Expostulation was vain, he could not be turned from his purpose, his friend had to yield, and you may imagine the gratitude of wife and children thus suddenly relieved from a terrible danger. Months passed on, months of conflict and carnage, the noblest and best of a great nation were pitted against each other, and the fearful struggle drenched the soil of the dis-United States with the blood of their valiant citizens. It was a terrible time, and over North and South alike there hung a cloud of gloom, and on every heart there lay a dread sense of uncertainty and apprehension. Day by day through all this weary period, as soon as the mails came in, that father, living in his own peaceful home, used to snatch up the newspaper, tear it open, and eagerly run his eye down the list of the wounded and killed; day by day he scanned the fatal column with hope and fear, lest haply he should see there the name of his faithful friend. Months passed on, and the war became more and more terrible, and tragic incidents were multiplied, hundreds and thousands of brave fellows were being hurried into eternity, but still his friend was spared. One day, however, on opening the paper, and glancing as usual over that sad column, the first thing that met his eye was the name of his substitute amongst the slain. He hurried to the field of battle. There, amidst the slaughtered men, he found the body that he sought. Sorrowfully and tenderly, with a brother’s love, and with more than a brother’s gratitude, he lifted that corpse from the gory plain, and bore it in his own arms off the battlefield, and brought it with him back to his own home, there laid it in his own family tomb, and in that cemetery at this day you will find over the young soldier’s grave the simple but touching epitaph, “He died for me!”1 [Note: Canon Hay Aitken.]
(3) But there is one thing more—it is the death of the Son of God instead of us. “Died for us”—that expression plainly implies two things: first, that Christ died of His own accord, being impelled by a great motive, love; and second, that that voluntary death, somehow or other, is for our behoof and advantage. The word in the original, “for,” does not define in what way that death ministers to our advantage. But it does assert that for those Roman Christians who had never seen Jesus Christ, and by consequence for you and me, there is benefit in the fact of that death. Now, suppose we quote an incident in the story of missionary martyrdom. There was a young lady, whom some of us knew and loved, in a Chinese mission station, who, with the rest of the missionary band, was fleeing. Her life was safe. She looked back, and saw a Chinese boy whom her heart twined round, in danger. She returned to save him. They laid hold of her and flung her into the burning house, and her charred remains have never been found. That was a death for another, but “Jesus died for us” in a deeper sense than that. Take another case. A man sets himself to some great cause, not his own, and he sees that in order to bless humanity, either by the proclamation of some truth, or by the origination of some great movement, or in some other way, if he is to carry out his purpose, he must give his life. He does so, and dies a martyr. What he aimed at could only be done by the sacrifice of his life. The death was a means to his end, and he died for his fellows. That is not the depth of the sense in which Paul meant that Jesus Christ died for us. It was not that He was true to His message, and, like many another martyr, died. There is only one way in which any beneficial relation can be established between the Death of Christ and us, and it is that when He died He died for us, because “he bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
ii. The Commendation
What is the nature of the proof or commendation? What does the death of Christ for us make known to us of God’s own love?
1. The Fact of it. God is jealous for our true happiness. We read it on the Cross. He seeks to save us from pains and penalties which we have justly deserved, and to secure us joys and comforts to which we had no claim; and in order to compass these ends He has made the most stupendous sacrifice that it was possible for Him to make. How can His will be opposed to our happiness when He has used such means to secure it? how can He desire to rob us of anything worth having when He has brought so much within our reach? The old Greek idea of an envious God, who must needs regard with jealous eye any unusual amount of human happiness—an idea by no means confined to ancient Greece—is incompatible with, and is contradicted by, the revelation made on the Cross of Calvary.
2. The Depth of it. Not only do we learn the fact of God’s love toward us by considering the ends for which He was content to let the Saviour die, which are rendered explicable only by the existence of such a love, but we are also able to form some conception at least of the intensity of that love. So far as it can be measured, the Cross of Christ is the measure of the love of God. One of the vastest words is that little word “so” in the third chapter of St. John. Let down the plummet into that word as deep as you can, there is still a depth below it; but if we seek to form some idea of that depth, we are referred to Calvary as God’s answer to our inquiries.
3. The Fulness of it. If, when we were ungodly and unrighteous, helpless subjects and slaves of our sins, God so loved us as, altogether of Himself, for the praise of the glory of His own grace, apart from any merit or answer or anticipation of love on our part—nay, while we were yet enemies to Him—if then and thus God so loved us as, at such a price and cost, to provide for us so great a salvation; if upon the ground of the salvation thus provided, and our acceptance of it with a faith answering to His grace, He receives us into a state or status of complete filial relationship with Himself and takes no account of anything within us save our need and our will to be saved,—if all this is so, can or will He fail us in what remains, the task and attainment of our actual salvation? The distinction is kept up between our salvation in faith and our salvation in fact, and the argument is that if God so gave Christ objectively to our faith He may be trusted to give Him subjectively in our lives. Whether objectively, however, to our faith or subjectively in our lives, Christ is always one and the same thing—our own divine holiness, righteousness, life. We do not believe in Him at all if we do not believe in Him as all these, not only for us, but in us.
Like a cradle rocking, rocking,
Silent, peaceful, to and fro,
Like a mother’s sweet looks dropping
On the little face below,
Hangs the green earth, swinging, turning
Jarless, noiseless, safe and slow;
Falls the light of God’s face bending
Down, and watching us below.
And as feeble babes that suffer,
Toss and cry, and will not rest,
Are the ones the tender mother
Holds the closest, loves the best;
So when we are weak and wretched,
By our sins weighed down, distressed,
Then it is that God’s great patience
Holds us closest, loves us best.
O great heart of God! whose loving
Cannot hindered be nor crossed;
Will not weary, will not even
In our death itself be lost—
Love divine! of such great loving
Only mothers know the cost—
Cost of love which, all love passing,
Gave a Son to save the lost.1 [Note: Saxe Holm, in Sunday School Times, xxxv. 20, p. 318.]
4. The Duration of it. The proof is one of perpetual validity. The Bible does not say, God commended; it does not say, God has commended; it uses the perpetual present and says, God commendeth. There are some proofs for the being and attributes of God that serve their purpose and then pass away. There are arguments that appeal to us in childhood, but lose their power in our maturer years. And there are proofs that may convince one generation, and yet be of little value to the next; not a few evidences, such as that from design, which were very helpful to the believers of an older school, are well-nigh worthless to their thinking sons, imbued with the teaching of the present day. But there is one argument that stands unshaken through every age and every generation. It is the triumphant argument of the Cross of Christ. Knowledge may widen, thought may deepen, theories may come and go, yet in the very centre, unshaken and unshakable, stands Calvary, the lasting commendation of the love of God. To all the sorrowing and to all the doubting, to all the bitter and to all the eager, to every youthful heart, noble and generous, to every weary heart, burdened and dark, to-day, and here, as nineteen hundred years ago to all like hearts in Rome, “God commendeth his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”2 [Note: G. H. Morrison.]
iii. Something Personal
However clear our views upon this subject, we shall not feel the full force of these considerations until we turn from the race to the individual, from mankind to ourselves in particular, and contemplate each for himself the love of God, as exhibited on the Cross of Christ, as if that love had had no other object. He loved me, and gave Himself for me. It is quite true that God’s love is as wide as the world, for “God so loved the world”; but it is equally true that it is as narrow as the individual. Wide enough to comprehend all, it is also sufficiently concentrated to apprehend each with its own merciful arrest, laying a strong hand upon our heart, and changing the whole course of our lives with its own mighty power.
Life—our common life—with its discipline of experience, will surely teach us how little, comparatively, upon reason, and how largely, comparatively, upon the heart, depend the issues of living. The most precious things we possess, the highest relationships in which we stand to one another—are they not, one and all of them, bound up with love, which thinks not in the syllogisms of reason, but rather by the tender intuitions of the heart. “We do not prove,” says Pascal, “that we ought to be loved, by arranging in order the reasons for love.… The way of the heart is different from that of the mind, which is by statement and proof.”
The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of a whole world dies
With the setting sun.
The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.
A German student, who had strayed far into doubt and sin, went one day in a fit of desperate levity to see the aged pastor who had been in years past his spiritual guide. “My son,” said the saint of God, “tell me your sins, that I may show you how to be delivered from them.” Immediately the young man began to recite a shameful list of wrongdoings, and again and again, with passionate emphasis for each sin, pronounced the words: “But I don’t care for that.” The other listened patiently the he had done, and then quietly asked him to comply with a simple request. “To-night,” he said, “and every night when you retire to rest, kneel down and say this: ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou hast died upon the Cross for me, that my sins may be forgiven;—but I don’t care for that,’ and come back at the end of a week and tell me your sins again.” Consent was lightly given, and for three nights the words were said. The fourth saw a penitent, white and trembling, at the old man’s door, asking for admission. “I can’t say it, and I do care,” was his faltering confession. The appeal of the Cross had reached his heart.1 [Note: F. B. Macnutt.]
O healing Face, unto all men most kind,
Teach me to find Thee, lest I wander blind,
For as the river seeks the sea, and as its rest the rain,
So seeks my face for Thee, so pleads my prayer the pain
That pleads through Thee:
“Behold and see,
Is there a sorrow that has no part in Me?”2 [Note: Laurence Housman.]
God’s own Love
Aitken (W. H. M. H.), God’s Everlasting Yea, 99.
Arnold (T.), Sermons, iv. 182.
Bright (W.), The Law of Faith, 170.
Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 174.
Du Bose (W. P.), The Gospel according to Saint Paul, 141.
Finney (C. G.), Sermons on Gospel Themes, 204, 307.
Hall (C. C.), The Gospel of the Divine Sacrifice, 1.
Hort (F. J. A.), Village Sermons, i. 101.
Knox-Little (W. J.), Manchester Sermons, 148.
Maclaren (A.), Triumphant Certainties, 275.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture: Romans, 95.
Macnutt (F. B.), The Riches of Christ, 234.
Schleiermacher (F. E.), Selected Sermons, 372.
Simon (D. W.), Twice Born, 94.
Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 278.
Temple (F.), Sermons, i. 264.
Trumbull (H. C.), Our Misunderstood Bible, 164.
Christian World Pulpit, iv. 424 (Beecher); vii. 339 (Hubbard); xv. 280 (Solomon); xxxv. 10 (M‘Hardy); lix. 212 (Morrison).
Homiletic Review, lix. 72 (M‘Lane).