And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS GLORIOUS TRUTH.
1. In creation. The machine is a revelation of the mechanist; the building, of the architect; the painting, of the painter; the poem, of the poet. So the universe is an embodiment of the ideas of the Divine mind, a revelation of the thought and feeling of the Creator. A careful survey of God's work will lead to the conclusion that "God is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works." Paley states the argument with clearness and force: "Contrivance proves design; and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the desirer. The world abounds with contrivances; and all the contrivances which we are acquainted with are directed to beneficial purposes.... We never discover a train of contrivance to bring about an evil purpose. No anatomist ever discovered a system of organization calculated to produce pain and disease; or, in explaining the parts of the human body, ever said, 'This is to irritate, this to inflame, this duet is to convey the gravel to the kidneys, this gland to secrete the humour which forms the gout.'" Viewed from this standpoint, the universe appears to be a grand outflow of the love of God, a convincing witness of his delight in promoting the well-being and the gladness of his creatures. The seasons of the year supply evidence of this truth. Spring, with its gradual unfolding of young life and verdant beauty, its quickening and joy-giving influence, is a revelation of God's tenderness and grace. Summer, with its rich light and heat, its abounding life and glory, is a revelation of the inexhaustible beauty and glory and munificence of God. Autumn, with its maturity and mellowness and plenty, proclaims the fidelity and bountifulness of God. But what shall we say of winter, with its storms and tempests, its somber clouds and stern colds? Even this - that it is not without its beauties, and in its bleak and trying months nature is silently and secretly preparing the beauties of the coming spring, the glories of summer, and the bounties of autumn. Rightly regarded, even winter testifies that "God is Love." But man, with guilty conscience, and a dread of God, and viewing him only through the distorted medium of his own sinful soul, fails to read the revelation of him in nature correctly. And even if he should do so, there arises the inquiry - Is God love in his relation to the sinful? To this, nature has no satisfactory response. Creation may have been a sufficient revelation of God for unfallen men, but for sinful men it is very insufficient.
2. In the Bible. The Bible is the revelation of God in his relation to man as a sinner. And this revelation reaches its clearest, fullest, and most influential development in Jesus Christ the Son of God.
(1) In the Bible, God appears as the Giver of every good, the Fountain of all blessings. "He giveth us richly all things to enjoy." "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above," etc. Material, mental, and spiritual good we derive from him. Restoration to the lost, pardon to the guilty, sanctification to the sinful, glory to the degraded, he gives. Through Christ he bestows all good here, and eternal and glorious life hereafter to all who believe in him.
(2) God confers these blessings upon those who are entirely undeserving of them. It is not to his loyal subjects alone that these gifts are bestowed, but also to rebels against his authority. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good," etc. Not only are we undeserving; we are ill-deserving; we have merited his wrath; yet he imparts to us the gifts of his love.
(3) In order to bestow these gifts upon us, he gave us a Gift of greater value than all the others. "He gave his only begotten Son." This Gift immeasurably transcends all the others. Without this they would not have reached us. They flow to us through the mediation of Jesus.
(4) And Jesus was given, not to those who waited to receive and honour him, but to those who despised and rejected him. He was given to labour and suffer and die for men, in order that they might have life and joy (cf. verses 9, 10; Romans 5:8; John 3:16). "God so loved the world, that he gave," etc. Who can declare the sweep and intensity of that little adverb "so"? It indicates an infinity of love, a shoreless, bottomless ocean of love. "Love, Divine love, Divine love giving, Divine love giving its only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth - not 'payeth,' not 'worketh,' not 'putteth out some external strength,' but 'believeth' - should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Dr. Joseph Parker). Great as was the love between the Father and the Son, the Father "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." All the love of the Saviour's life was the love of God. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." In all the life of our Lord I read our text, and in his death it is proclaimed with an almost irresistible fullness and force that "God is Love."
II. THE VINDICATION OF THIS GLORIOUS TRUTH. The terrible presence of sin and suffering in the world tends to make men doubt the love of God. If God is love, how is it that there is so much evil amongst men? If he is omniscient, he must have foreseen it; and, foreseeing it, if he is omnipotent, he might have prevented it. Why did he not do so? Why does he allow it to remain?
1. In relation to the existence of sin, or moral evil, amongst us, observe this - the moral consciousness of men ever charges sin upon themselves, not upon God. The weak and depraved reason of man may be so perverted as to charge or implicate the Almighty with the origin and presence of sin; but the heart and conscience never do so. Conscience brings the guilt home to the sin-doer, and under its influence he cries, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned," etc. Remorse, penitence, prayer for pardon, efforts to repair wrongs which have been done, - all these prove that man feels himself, and not God, to be chargeable with sin. And in relation to the origin of evil, whatever dark suggestions may be presented to our mind, we always feel that it cannot be of God, but is against him. The presence of evil he permitted and still permits; but it did not originate with him. All his works and ways are utterly opposed to sin. His material creation, his universal providence, his moral laws, and the redemptive mission of his Son, are all resolutely set against evil. He is not darkness, but light; not malignity, but love.
2. Suffering, or natural evil, as it is sometimes called, is the result of sin, or moral evil. Whence come war and slavery, distress and poverty, pain and sorrow, disease and "the bitterness of death"? If men would "cease to do evil, and learn to do well," suffering would disappear from our world almost entirely.
3. Much of our suffering is self-inflicted. We violate the laws of God's universe, and we suffer in consequence. "Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him." This is an arrangement of love.
4. The sufferings of the world are small when compared with its enjoyments. Pain is the exception, not the rule, in human life. The joy that is in the world is far greater than the sorrow. The sufferings of our race are only like one dark and stormy day in a whole year of smiling and joyous sunshine.
5. The suffering that is in the world is often the means of goodness and joy. In itself evil is and ever must be evil; in itself suffering is ever painful and bitter. But through the goodness of God evil is not an end, but is often used and overruled for the promotion of good. "All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous, but grievous: yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness." Severe suffering is like a great thunderstorm which sweeps over a country, and, by its flashing flames and awful booms and pelting rain, fills the minds of men with terror; but it passes away, and leaves the air purer and the heavens brighter. Therefore "let us rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh patience," etc. (Romans 5:3-5; also Romans 8:18, 28; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; James 1:2, 3, 12). "You must cut the diamond," said Thomas Jones, "to understand its value, and to behold the play of its tremulous colours when the sun-rays fall upon its surface. Thus do afflictions bring to light what was latent in the heart. The strongest faith, the intensest love, the profoundest gratitude, and the sublimest moral and spiritual power have been manifested, not by men in the clear day of their prosperity, but by the children of affliction in the dark night of sorrow." Thus even suffering and trial, when received and borne in a right spirit, witness to this glorious truth, that "God is Love." - W.J.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us1. 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.)
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.)
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him
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.)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.)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.)
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
(Prof. T. Fowler.)
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.)
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)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.
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.)
(James T. East.)
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.)
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
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)
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.)
(I. E. Page.)
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)
(T. G. Selby.)
(Asa Mahan, D. D.)
(Mrs. M. Bottome.)
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