1 John 4
MacLaren Expositions Of Holy Scripture
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John


1 John 4:10.

This is the second of a pair of twin verses which deal with substantially the same subject under two slightly different aspects. The thought common to both is that Christ’s mission is the great revelation of God’s love. But in the preceding verse the point on which stress is laid is the manifestation of that love, and in our text the point mainly brought out is its essential nature. In the former we read, ‘In this was manifested the love of God,’ and in the present verse we read, ‘Herein is love.’ In the former verse John fixes on three things as setting forth the greatness of that manifestation--viz., that the Christ is the only begotten Son, that the manifestation is for the world, and that its end is the bestowment of everlasting love. In my text the points which are fixed on are that that Love in its nature is self-kindled--’not that we loved God, but that He loved us’--and that it lays hold of, and casts out of the way that which, unremoved, would be a barrier between God and us--viz., our sin: ‘He hath sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’

Now it is interesting to notice that these twin verses, like a double star which reflects the light of a central sun, draw their brightness from the great word of the Master, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Do you not hear the echo of His voice in the three expressions in the verse before the text--’only begotten’ ‘world’ ‘live’? Here is one more of the innumerable links which bind together in indissoluble union the Gospel and the Epistle. So, then, the great thought suggested by the words before us is just this, that in the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ we have the great revelation of the love of God.

I. Now there are three questions that suggest themselves to me, and the first is this, What, then, does Christ’s mission say about God’s love?

I do not need to dwell on the previous question whether, apart from that mission, there is any solid revelation of the fact that there is love in Heaven, or whether we are left, apart from it, to gropings and probabilities. I need not refer you to the ambiguous oracles of nature or to the equally ambiguous oracles of life. I need not, I suppose, do more than just remind you that even the men whose faith grasps the thought of the love of God most intensely, know what it is to be brought to a stand before some of the dreadful problems which the facts of humanity and the facts of nature press upon us, nor need I remind you how, as we see around us to-day, in the drift of our English literature and that of other nations, when men turn their backs upon the Cross, they look upon a landscape all swathed in mists, and on which darkness is steadily settling. The reason why the men of this generation, some of them very superficially, and for the sake of being ‘in the swim’ and some of them despairingly and with bleeding hearts, are turning themselves to a reasoned pessimism, is because they will not see what shines out from the Cross, that God is love.

Nor need I do more than remind you, in a word, of the fact that, go where we will through this world, and consult all the conceptions that men have made to themselves of gods many and lords many, whilst we find the deification of power, and of vice, and of fragmentary goodnesses, of hopes and fears, of longings, of regrets, we find nowhere a god of whom the characteristic is love. And amidst that Pantheon of deities, some of them savage, some of them lustful, some of them embodiments of all vices, some of them indifferent and neutral, some of them radiant and fair, none reveals this secret, that the centre of the universe is a heart. So we have to turn away from hopes, from probability dashed with many a doubt, and find something that has more solid substance in it, if it is to be enough to bear up the man that grasps it and to yield before no tempests. For all that Bishop Butler says, probabilities are not the guide of life, in its deepest and noblest aspects. They may be the guide of practice, but for the anchorage of the soul we want no shifting sand-bank, but that to which we may make fast and be sure that, whatever shifts, it remains immovable. You can no more clothe the soul in ‘perhapses’ than a man can make garments out of a spider’s web. Religion consists of the things of which we are sure, and not of the things which are probable. ‘Peradventure’ is not the word on which a man can rest the weight of a crushed, or an agonising, or a sinking soul; he must have ‘Verily! verily!’ and then he is at rest.

How do we know what a man is? By seeing what a man does. How do we know what God is? By knowing what God does. So John does not argue with logic, either frosty or fiery, but he simply opens his mouth, and in calm, pellucid utterances sets forth the truths and leaves them to work. He says to us, ‘I do not relegate you to your intuitions; I do not argue with you; I simply say, Look at Him; look, and see that God is love.’

What, then, does the mission of Christ say to us about the love of God? It says, first, that it is a love independent of, and earlier than, ours. We love, as a rule, because we recognise in the object to which our heart goes out something that draws it, something that is loveable. But He whose name is ‘I am that I am’ has all the reasons of His actions within Himself, and just as He

‘Sits on no precarious throne,

Nor borrows leave to be,’

nor is dependent on any creature for existence, so He is His own motive, He is His own reason. Within that sacred circle of the Infinite Nature lie all the energies which bring that Infinite Nature into action; and like some clear fountain, more sparkling than crystal, there wells up for ever, from the depths of the Divine Nature, the love which is Himself. He loves, not because we love Him, but because He is God. The very sun itself, as some astronomers believe, owes its radiant brightness and ever-communicated warmth to the impact on, and reception into, it of myriads of meteors and of matter drawn from the surrounding system. So when the fuel fails, that fire will go out, and the sun will shrivel into a black ball. But this central Sun of the universe has all His light within Himself, and the rays that pour out from Him owe their being and their motion to nothing but the force of that central fire, from which they rush with healing on their wings.

If, then, God’s love is not evoked by anything in His creatures, then it is universal, and we do not need anxiously to question ourselves whether we deserve that it shall fall upon us, and no conscious unworthiness need ever make us falter in the least in the firmness with which we grasp that great central thought. The sun, inferior emblem as it is of that Light of all that is, pours down its beams indiscriminately on dunghill and on jewel, though it be true that in the one its rays breed corruption and in the other draw out beauty. That great love wraps us all, is older than our sins, and is not deflected by them. So that is the first thing that Christ’s mission tells us about God’s love.

The second is--it speaks to us of a love which gives its best. John says, ‘God sent His Son,’ and that word reposes, like the rest of the passage, on many words of Christ’s--such as, for instance, when He speaks of Himself as ‘sanctified and sent into the world,’ and many another saying. But remember how, in the foundation passage to which I have already referred, and of which we have some reflection in the words before us, there is a tenderer expression--not merely ‘sent,’ but ‘gave.’ Paul strengthens the word when he says, ‘gave up for us all.’ It is not for us to speculate about these deep things, but I would remind you of what I dare say I have had occasion often to point out, that Paul seems to intend to suggest to us a mysterious parallel, when he further says, ‘He that spared not His own Son, but freely gave Him up to death for us all.’ For that emphatic word ‘spared’ is a distinct allusion to, and quotation of, the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac: ‘Seeing thou hast not withheld from Me thine only son.’ And so, mysterious as it is, we may venture to say that He not only sent, but He gave, and not only gave, but gave up. His love, like ours, delights to lavish its most precious gifts on its objects.

Now there arises from this consideration a thought which I only mention, and it is this. Christian teaching about Christ’s work has often, both by its friends and its foes, been so presented as to lead to the conception that it was the work of Christ which made God love men. The enemies of evangelical truth are never tired of talking in that sense; and some of its unwise friends have given reason for the caricature. But the true Christian teaching is, ‘God so loved ... that He gave.’ The love is the cause of the mission, and not the mission that which evokes the love. So let us be sure that, not because Christ died does God love us sinful creatures, but that, because God loves us, Christ died for us.

The third thing which the mission of Christ teaches us about the love of God is that it is a love which takes note of and overcomes man’s sin. I have said, as plainly as I can, that I reject the travesty of Christianity which implies that it was Christ’s mission which originated God’s love to men. But a love that does not in the slightest degree care whether its object is good or bad--what sort of a love do you call that? What do you name it when a father shows it to his children? Moral indifference; culpable and weak and fatal. And is it anything nobler, if you transfer it to God, and say that it is all the same to Him whether a man is living the life of a hog, and forgetting all that is high and noble, or whether he is pressing with all his strength towards light and truth and goodness? Surely, surely they who, in the name of their reverence for the supreme love of God, cover over the fact of His righteousness, are mutilating and killing the very attribute that they are trying to exalt. A love that cares nothing for the moral character of its object is not love, but hate; it is not kindness, but cruelty. Take away the background because it is so black, and you lower the brilliancy of whiteness of that which stands in front of it. There is such a property in God as is fittingly described by that tremendous word ‘wrath.’ God cannot, being what He is, treat sin as if it were no sin; and therefore we read, ‘He sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ The black dam, which we build up between ourselves and the river of the water of life, is to be swept away; and it is the death of Jesus Christ which makes it possible for the highest gift of God’s love to pour over the ruined and partially removed barrier and to flood a man’s soul. Brethren, no God that is worthy the name can give Himself to a sinful soul. No sinful soul that has not the habit, the guilt, the penalty of its sins swept away, is capable of receiving the life, which is the highest gift of the love. So our twin texts divide what I may call the process of redemption between them; and whilst the one says, ‘He sent His Son that we should have life through Him,’ the other tells us of how the sins which bar the entrance of that life into our hearts, as our own consciences tell us they do, can be removed. There must first be the propitiation for our sins, and then that mighty love reaches its purpose and attains its end, and can give us the life of God to be the life of our souls. So much for my first and principle question.

II. Now I have to ask, secondly, how comes it that Christ’s mission says anything about God’s love?

That question is a very plain one, and I should like to press the answer to it very emphatically. Take any other of the great names of the world’s history of poet, thinker, philosopher, moralist, practical benefactor; is it possible to apply such a thought as this to them--except with a hundred explanations and limitations--that they, however radiant, however wise, however beneficent, however fruitful their influence, make men sure that God loves them? The thing is ridiculous, unless you are using language in a very fantastic and artificial fashion.

Christ’s mission reveals God’s love, because Christ is the Son of God. If it is true, as Jesus said, that ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,’ then I can say, ‘In Thy tenderness, in Thy patience, in Thy attracting of the publican and the harlot, in Thy sympathy with all the erring and the sorrowful, and, most of all, in Thy agony and passion, in Thy cross and death, I see the glory of God which is the love of God.’ Brother, if you break that link, which binds the man Christ Jesus with the ever-living and the ever-loving God, I know not how you can draw from the record of His life and death a confidence, which nothing can shake, in the love of the Father.

Then there is another point. Christ’s mission speaks to us about God’s love, if--and I was going to say only if--we regard it as His mission to be the propitiation for our sins. Strike out the death as the sacrifice for the world’s sin, and what you have left is a maimed something, which may be, and I thankfully recognise often is, very strengthening, very helpful, very calming, very ennobling, even to men who do not sympathise with the view of that work which I am now setting forth, but which is all that to them, very largely, because of the unconscious influence of the truths which they have cast away. It seems to me that those who, in the name of the highest paternal love of God, reject the thought of Christ’s sacrificial death, are kicking away the ladder by which they have climbed, and are better than their creeds, and happily illogical. It is the Cross that reveals the love, and it is the Cross as the means of propitiation that pours the light of that blessed conviction into men’s hearts.

III. My last question is this: what does Christ’s mission say about God’s love to me?

We know what it ought to say. It ought to carry, as on the crest of a great wave, the conviction of that divine love into our hearts, to be fruitful there. It ought to sweep out, as on the crest of a great wave, our sins and evils. It ought to do this; does it? On some of us I fear it produces no effect at all. Some of you, dear friends, look at that light with lack-lustre eyes, or, rather, with blind eyes, that are dark as midnight in the blaze of noonday. The voice comes from the Cross, sweet as that of harpers harping with their harps, and mighty as the voice of many waters, and you hear nothing. Some of us it slightly moves now and then, and there an end.

Brethren, you have to turn the world-wide generality into a personal possession. You have to say, ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ It is of no use to believe in a universal Saviour; do you trust in your particular Saviour? It is of no use to have the most orthodox and clear conceptions of the relation between the Cross of Christ and the revelation to men of the love of God; have you made that revelation the means of bringing into your own personal life the conviction that Jesus Christ is your Saviour, the propitiation for your sins, the Giver to you of life eternal? It is faith that does that. Note that, in the great foundation passage to which I have made frequent reference, there are two conditions put in between the beginning and the end. Some of us are disposed to say, ‘God so loved the world that every man might have eternal life.’ That is not what Christ said, ‘God so loved the world that’--and here follows the first condition--’He gave His Son that’--and here follows the second--’he that believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ God has done what it is needful for Him to do. His part of the conditions has been fulfilled. Fulfil yours--’He that believeth on Him.’ And if you can say, not He is the propitiation for our sin, but for my sin, then you will live and move and have your being in a heaven of love, and will love Him back again with an echo and reflection of His own, and nothing shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.


Isaiah 33:14 - Isaiah 33:15
. - 1 John 4:16.

I have put these two verses together because, striking as is at first sight the contrast in their tone, they refer to the same subject, and they substantially preach the same truth. A hasty reader, who is more influenced by sound than by sense, is apt to suppose that the solemn expressions in my first text, ‘the devouring fire’ and’ everlasting burnings,’ mean hell. They mean God, as is quite obvious from the context. The man who is to ‘dwell in the devouring fire’ is the good man. He that is able to abide ‘the everlasting burnings’ is ‘the man that walketh righteously and speaketh uprightly,’ that ‘despiseth the gain of oppression, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.’ The prophet has been calling all men, far and near, to behold a great act of divine judgment in which God has been manifested in flaming glory, consuming evil; now he represents the ‘sinners in Zion,’ the unworthy members of the nation, as seized with sudden terror, and anxiously asking this question, which in effect means: ‘Who among us can abide peacefully, joyfully, fed and brightened, not consumed and annihilated, by that flashing brightness and purity?’ The prophet’s answer is the answer of common-sense-like draws to like. A holy God must have holy companions.

But that is not all. The fire of God is the fire of love as well as the fire of purity; a fire that blesses and quickens, as well as a fire that destroys and consumes. So the Apostle John comes with his answer, not contradicting the other one, but deepening it, expanding it, letting us see the foundations of it, and proclaiming that as a holy God must be surrounded by holy hearts, which will open themselves to the flame as flowers to the sunshine, so a loving God must be clustered about by loving hearts, who alone can enter into deep and true friendship with Him.

The two answers, then, of these texts are one at bottom; and when Isaiah asks, ‘Who shall dwell with the everlasting fire?’-the perpetual fire, burning and unconsumed, of that divine righteousness-the deepest answer, which is no stern requirement but a merciful promise, is John’s answer, ‘He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.’

The simplest way, I think, of bringing out the force of the words before us will be just to take these three points which I have already suggested: the world’s question, the partial answer of the prophet, the complete answer of the Apostle.

I. The World’s Question.

I need only remind you how frequently in the Old Testament the emblem of fire is employed to express the divine nature. In many places, though by no means in all, the prominent idea in the emblem is that of the purity of the divine nature, which flashes and flames as against all which is evil and sinful. So we read in one grand passage in this book of Isaiah, ‘the Light of Israel shall become a fire’; as if the lambent beauty of the highest manifestation of God gathered itself together, intensified itself, was forced back upon itself, and from merciful, illuminating light turned itself into destructive and consuming fire. And we read, you may remember, too, in the description of the symbolical manifestation of the divine nature which accompanied the giving of the Law on Sinai, that ‘the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain,’ and yet into that blaze and brightness the Lawgiver went, and lived and moved in it.

There is, then, in the divine nature a side of antagonism and opposition to evil, which flames against it, and labours to consume it. I would speak with all respect for the motives of many men in this day who dread to entertain the idea of the divine wrath against evil, lest they should in any manner trench upon the purity and perfectness of the divine love. I respect and sympathise with the motive altogether; and I neither respect nor sympathise with the many ferocious pictures of that which is called the wrath of God against sin, which much so-called orthodox teaching has indulged in. But if you will only remove from that word ‘anger’ the mere human associations which cleave to it, of passion on the one hand, and of a wish to hurt its object on the other, then you cannot, I think, deny to the divine nature the possession of such passionless and unmalignant wrath, without striking a fatal blow at the perfect purity of God. A God that does not hate evil, that does not flame out against it, using all the energies of His being to destroy it, is a God to whose character there cleaves a fatal suspicion of indifference to good, of moral apathy. If I have not a God to trust in that hates evil because He loveth righteousness, then ‘the pillared firmament itself were rottenness, and earth’s base built on stubble’; nor were there any hope that this damnable thing that is killing and sucking the life-blood out of our spirits should ever be destroyed and cast aside. Oh! it is short-sighted wisdom, and it is cruel kindness, to tamper with the thought of the wrath of God, the ‘everlasting burnings’ of that eternally pure nature wherewith it wages war against all sin.

But then, let us remember that, on the other side, the fire which is the destructive fire of perfect purity is also the fire that quickens and blesses. God is love, says John, and love is fire, too. We speak of ‘the flame of love,’ of ‘warm affections,’ and the like. The symbol of fire does not mean destructive energy only. And these two are one. God’s wrath is a form of God’s love; God hates because He loves.

And the ‘wrath’ and the ‘love’ differ much more in the difference of the eyes that look, than they do in themselves. Here are two bits of glass; one of them sifts out and shows all the fiery-red rays, the other all the yellow. It is the one same pure, white beam that passes through them both, but one is only capable of receiving the fiery-red beams of the wrath, and the other is capable of receiving the golden light of the love. Let us take heed lest, by destroying the wrath, we maim the love; and let us take heed lest, by exaggerating the wrath, we empty the love of its sweetness and its preciousness; and let us accept the teaching that these are one, and that the deepest of all the things that the world can know about God lies in that double saying, which does not contradict its second half by its first, but completes its first by its second-God is Righteousness, God is Love.

Well, then, that being so, the question rises to every mind of ordinary thoughtfulness: ‘Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ A God fighting against evil; can you and I hope to hold familiar fellowship with Him? A God fighting against evil; if He rises up to exercise His judging and His punishing energies, can we meet Him? ‘Can thy heart endure and thy hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee?’ is the question that comes to each of us if we are reasonable people. I do not dwell upon it; but I ask you to take it, and answer it for yourselves.

To ‘dwell with everlasting burnings’ means two things. First, it means to hold familiar intercourse and communion with God. The question which presents itself to thoughtful minds is-What sort of man must I be if I am to dwell near God? The lowliest bush may be lit by the divine fire and not be consumed by it; and the poorest heart may be all aflame with an indwelling God, if only it yield itself to Him, and long for His likeness. Electricity only flames into consuming fire when its swift passage is resisted. The question for us all is-How can I receive this holy fire into my bosom, and not be burned? Is any communion possible, and if it is, on what conditions? These are the questions which the heart of man is really asking, though it knows not the meaning of its own unrest.

‘To dwell with everlasting burnings’ means, secondly, to bear the action of the fire-the judgment of the present and the judgment of the future. The question for each of us is-How can we face that judicial and punitive action of that Divine Providence which works even here, and how can we face the judicial and punitive action in the future?

I suppose you all believe, or at least say that you believe, that there is such a future judgment. Have you ever asked yourselves the question, and rested not until you got a reasonable answer to it, on which, like a man leaning on a pillar, you can lean the whole weight of your expectations-How am I to come into the presence of that devouring fire? Have you any fireproof dress that will enable you to go into the furnace like the Hebrew youths, and walk up and down in the midst of it, well and at liberty? Have you? ‘Who shall dwell amidst the everlasting fires?’

That question has stirred sometimes, I know, in the consciences of every man and woman that is listening to me. Some of you have tampered with it and tried to throttle it, or laughed at it and shuffled it out of your mind by the engrossments of business, and tried to get rid of it in all sorts of ways: and here it has met you again to-day. Let us have it settled, in the name of common-sense {to invoke nothing higher}, once for all, upon reasonable principles that will stand; and do you see that you settle it to-day.

II. And now, look next at the prophet’s answer.

It is simple. He says that if a man is to hold fellowship with, or to face the judgment of, the pure and righteous God, the plainest dictate of reason and common-sense is that he himself must be pure and righteous to match. The details into which hid answer to the question runs out are all very homely, prosaic, pedestrian kind of virtues, nothing at all out of the way, nothing that people would call splendid or heroic. Here they are:-’He that walks righteously,’-a short injunction, easily spoken, but how hard!-’and speaketh uprightly, he that despiseth the gain of oppression, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, that shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.’ Righteous action, righteous speech, inward hatred of possessions gotten at my neighbour’s cost, and a vehement resistance to all the seductions of sense, shutting one’s hands, stopping one’s ears, fastening one’s eyes up tight so that he may not handle, nor hear, nor see the evil-there is the outline of a trite, everyday sort of morality which is to mark the man who, as Isaiah says, can ‘dwell amongst the everlasting fires.’

Now, if at your leisure you will turn to Psalm 15:1 - Psalm 15:5 and Psalm 24:1 - Psalm 24:10, you will find there two other versions of the same questions and the same answer, both of which were obviously in our prophet’s mind when he spoke. In the one you have the question put: ‘Who shall abide in Thy tabernacle?’ In the other you have the same question put: ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?’ And both these two psalms answer the question and sketch the outline {and it is only an outline} of a righteous man, from the Old Testament point of view, substantially in the same fashion that Isaiah does here.

I do not need to remark upon the altogether unscientific and non-exhaustive nature of the description of righteousness that is set forth here. There are a great many virtues, plain and obvious, that are left out of the picture. But I ask you to notice one very special defect, as it might seem. There is not the slightest reference to anything that we call religion. It is all purely pedestrian, worldly morality; do righteous things; do not tell lies; do not cheat your neighbour; stop your ears if people say foul things in your hearing; shut your eyes if evil comes before you. These are the kind of duties enjoined, and these only. The answer of my text moves altogether on the surface, dealing only with conduct, not with character, and dealing with conduct only in reference to this world. There is not a word about the inner nature, not a word about the inner relation of a man to God. It is the minimum of possible qualifications for dwelling with God.

Well, now, do you achieve that minimum? Suppose we waive for the moment all reference to God; suppose we waive for the moment all reference to motive and inward nature; suppose we keep ourselves only on the outside of things, and ask what sort of conduct a man must have that is able to walk with God? We have heard the answer.

Now, then, is that me? Is this sketch here, admittedly imperfect, a mere black-and-white swift outline, not intended to be shaded or coloured, or brought up to the round; is this mere outline of what a good man ought to be, at all like me? Yes or no? I think we must all say No to the question, and acknowledge our failure to attain to this homely ideal of conduct. The requirement pared down to its lowest possible degree, and kept as superficial as ever you can keep it, is still miles above me, and all I have to say when I listen to such words is, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’

My dear friends, take this one thought away with you:-the requirements of the most moderate conscience are such as no man among us is able to comply with. And what then? Am I to be shut up to despair? am I to say: Then nobody can dwell within that bright flame? Am I to say: Then when God meets man, man must crumble away into nothing and disappear? Am I to say, for myself: Then, alas for me! when I stand at His judgment bar?

III. Let us take the Apostle’s answer.

God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.’ Now, to begin with, let us distinctly understand that the New Testament answer, represented by John’s great words, entirely endorses Isaiah’s; and that the difference between the two is not that the Old Testament, as represented by psalmist and prophet, said, ‘You must be righteous in order to dwell with God,’ and that the New Testament says, ‘You need not be.’ Not at all! John is just as vehement in saying that nothing but purity can bind a man in thoroughly friendly and familiar conjunction with God as David or Isaiah was. He insists as much as anybody can insist upon this great principle, that if we are to dwell with God we must be like God, and that we are like God when we are like Him in righteousness and love.

‘He that saith he hath fellowship with Him, and walketh in darkness, is a liar!’ That is John’s short way of gathering it all up. Righteousness is as essential in the gospel scheme for all communion and fellowship with God as ever it was declared to be by the most rigid of legalists; and if any of you have the notion that Christianity has any other terms to lay down than the old terms-that righteousness is essential to communion-you do not understand Christianity. If any of you are building upon the notion that a man can come into loving and familiar friendship with God as long as he loves and cleaves to any sin, you have got hold of a delusion that will wreck your souls yet,-is, indeed, harming, wrecking them now, and will finally destroy them if you do not got rid of it. Let us always remember that the declaration of my first text lies at the very foundation of the declaration of my second.

What, then, is the difference between them? Why, for one thing it is this-ISAIAH tells us that we must he righteous, John tells us how we may be. The one says, ‘There are the conditions,’ the other says, ‘Here are the means by which you can have the conditions.’ Love is the productive germ of all righteousness; it is the fulfilling of the law. Get that into your hearts, and all these relative and personal duties will come. If the deepest, inmost life is right, all the surface of life will come right. Conduct will follow character, character will follow love.

The efforts of men to make themselves pure, and so to come into the position of holding fellowship with God, are like the wise efforts of children in their gardens. They stick in their little bits of rootless flowers, and they water them; but, being rootless, the flowers are all withered to-morrow and flung over the hedge the day after. But if we have the love of God in our hearts, we have not rootless flowers, but the seed which will spring up and bear fruit of holiness.

But that is not all. Isaiah says ‘Righteousness,’ John says ‘Love,’ which makes righteousness. And then he tells us how we may get love, having first told us how we may get righteousness: ‘We love Him because He first loved us.’ It is just as impossible for a man to work himself into loving God as it is for a man to work himself into righteous actions. There is no difference in the degree of impossibility in the two cases. But what we can do is, we can go and gaze at the thing that kindles the love; we can contemplate the Cross on which the great Lover of our souls died, and thereby we can come to love Him. John’s answer goes down to the depths, for his notion of love is the response of the believing soul to the love of God which was manifested on the Cross of Calvary. To have righteousness we must have love; to have love we must look to the love that God has to us; to look rightly to the love that God has to us we must have faith. Now you have gone down to the very bottom of the matter. Faith is the first step of the ladder, and the second step is love and the third step is righteousness.

And so the New Testament, in its highest and most blessed declarations, rests itself firmly upon these rigid requirements of the old law. You and I, dear brethren, have but one way by which we can walk in the midst of that fire, rejoicing and unconsumed, namely that we shall know and believe the love which God hath to us, love Him back again ‘with pure hearts fervently,’ and in the might of that receptive faith and productive love, become like Him in holiness, and ourselves be ‘baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.’ Thus, fire-born and fiery, we shall dwell as in our native home, in God Himself.

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
1 John


1 John 4:17.

Large truths may be spoken in little words. Profundity is often supposed to be obscurity, but the deepest depth is clear. John, in his gospel and epistles, deals with the deepest realities, and with all things in their eternal aspects, but his vocabulary is the simplest in the New Testament. God and the world, life and death, love and hate, light and darkness, these are the favourite words round which his thoughts gather. Here are nine little monosyllables. What can be simpler than, ‘As He is, so are we in this world?’ And what can go beyond the thought that lies in it, that a Christian is a living likeness of Christ?

But the connection of my text is quite as striking as its substance. John has been dwelling upon his favourite thought that to abide in love is to abide in God, and God in us. And then he goes on to say that ‘Herein’--that is, in such mutual abiding in love--’is love made perfect with us’; and the perfection of that love, which is thus communion, is in order that, at the great solemn day of future trial, men may lift up their faces and meet His glance--which is not strange to them, nor met for the first time--with open-hearted and open-countenanced ‘boldness.’ But ‘love’ and ‘abiding’ are the source of confidence in the Day of Judgment, because love and abiding are the source of assimilation to Christ’s life. We have boldness, ‘because as He is, so are we in this world’; and we are as He is, because we love and abide in Him. So here are three thoughts, the assimilation of the Christian man to Christ; the frank confidence which it begets; and the process by which it is secured.

I. A Christian is Christ’s living likeness.

That is a startling thing to say, and all the more startling if you notice that John does not say ‘As He was,’ in this earthly life of humiliation and filial obedience, but ‘as He is,’ in His heavenly life and reign and glory. That might well repel us from all thought of possible resemblance, but the light, however brilliant it may be, is not blinding, and it is the Christ as He is, and not only--true as that is--the Christ as He was, who is the original of which Christian men are copies.

Now there is the difference between the teaching of such classes of religionists as represent Christ’s humanity as all in all, and preach to us that He, in His earthly life is the pattern to whom we are to seek to conform our lives, and the true evangelical teaching. That dead Man is living, and His present life has in it elements which we can grasp, and to which every Christian life is to be conformed.

Is there anything, then, within the glory to which I, in my poor, struggling, hampered, imperfect life here on earth, can feel that my character is being shaped? Yes, surely there is. I have no doubt that, in the words of my text, the Apostle is remembering the solemn ones of our Lord’s high-priestly prayer as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of his gospel, where the same antithesis of our being in the world, and His not being there, recurs; and where the analogy and resemblance are distinctly stated--’I in Thee, and Thou in Me, that they also may be in us.’

So, then, when we stand with our letter-writer in his Patmos island, and see the countenance ‘as the sun shining in his strength, and the eyes as a flame of fire,’ and the many crowns upon the head, and the many stars in the hand, though we may feel as if all resemblance was at an end, and aspiration after likeness could only fall at His feet and cover its face, yet there is within the glory something which may be repeated and reproduced in our lives, and that is, the indissoluble union of a Son with a Father, in all loving obedience, in all perfect harmony, in all mutual affection and outgoing of heart and thoughts. This is the centre of the life, alike of the Christ when He is glorified, and of the Christ when He was upon earth. So the very secret heart of the mysterious being of the Son is to be, and necessarily is, repeated in all those who in Him have received the adoption of sons.

Or to put the whole thing into plainer words, it is the religious and the moral aspects of Christ’s being, and not any one particular detail thereof; and these, as they live and reign on the Throne, just as truly as these, as they suffered and wept upon earth--it is these to which it is our destiny to be conformed. We are like Him, if we are His, in this,--that we are joined to God, that we hold fellowship with Him, that our lives are all permeated with the divine, that we are saturated with the presence of God, that we have submitted ourselves to Him and to His will, that ‘not my will, but Thine, be done’ is the very inmost meaning of our hearts and our lives. And thus ‘we,’ even here, ‘bear the image of the heavenly, as we have borne the images of the earthly.’ Now I am not going to dwell upon details; all these can be filled in by each of us for himself. The centre-point which I insist upon is this--the filial union with God, the filial submission to Him, and the consequent purity as Christ is pure, righteousness as Christ is righteous, and walking even as Christ walked, for ever in the light.

But then there is another point that I desire to refer to. I have put an emphasis upon the ‘is’ instead of the ‘was,’ as it applies to Jesus Christ. I would further put an emphasis upon the ‘are,’ as it applies to us--’So are we.’

John is not exhorting, he is affirming. He is not saying what Christian men ought to strive to be, but he is saying what all Christian men, by virtue of their Christian character, are. Or, to put it into other words, likeness to the Master is certain. It is inevitably involved in the relation which a Christian man bears to the Lord. There may be degrees in the likeness, there may be differences of skill and earnestness in the artist. We have to labour like a portrait painter, slowly and tentatively approaching to the complete resemblance. It is ‘a life-long task ere the lump be leavened.’ This likeness does not reach its completeness by a leap. It is not struck, as the image of a king is, upon the blank metal disc, by one stroke, but it is wrought out by long, laborious, and, as I said, approximating and tentative touches. My text suggests that to us by its addition, ‘So are we, in this world.’ The ‘world’--or, to use modern phraseology, ‘the environment’--conditions the resemblance. As far as it is possible for a thing encompassed with dust and ashes to resemble the radiant sun in the heavens, so far is the resemblance carried here. Some measure of it, and a growing measure, is inseparable from the reality of a Christian life.

Now, you Christian people, does that plain statement touch you anywhere? ‘So are we.’ Well! you would be quite easy if John had said: ‘So may we be; so should we be; so shall we be.’ But what about the ‘so are we’? What a ghastly contradiction the lives of multitudes of professing Christians are to that plain statement! ‘Like Jesus Christ’--would anybody say that about anything in me? ‘So are we’--no words of mine, dear brethren, can make the statement more searching, more impressive; but, I pray you, lay this to heart: ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’ You may take sacraments and profess Christianity, or, as we Nonconformists have it, ‘join churches,’ and do all manner of outward work for ever and a day; but if you have not the likeness of Christ, at least in germ, and growing to something more than a germ, in your characters, you had better revise your position, and ask whether, after all, you have not been walking in a vain show, and fancied yourselves the servants of Christ, while you bear the image of Christ’s enemy.

A very tiny gully on a hillside, made by showers of rain, may fall into the same slopes, and has been created by the very same forces, working according to the same laws, as have scooped out valleys miles broad, bordered by mountains thousands of feet high. And in my little life, poor as it is, limited as it is, environed as it is by the world, and therefore often hampered and stained, as well as helped and brightened, by its environment, there may be, and there will be, in some degree, if I am a Christian man, the very same power at work by which Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father shines as the sun on the throne of the universe.

But then, notice further, how that limitation to which I have referred in this world carries with it another message. There is Christ in the heavens, veiled and unseen. Here are you on earth, his representative. There is a rage at present for putting pictures into all books, and folk will scarcely read unless they get illustrated literature. The world has for its illustrations of the gospel the lives of us Christian people. In the book there are principles and facts, and readers should be able to turn the page and see all pictured in us.

That is what you are set to do in this world. ‘As the Father sent Me, even so send I you.’ ‘As He is, so are we in this world.’ It may be our antagonist, but it is our sphere, and its presence is necessary to evoke our characters. Christ has entrusted His reputation, His honour, to us, and many a man that never cares to look at Him as He is revealed in Scripture, would be wooed and won to look at Him and love Him, if we Christian people were more true to our vocation, and bore more conspicuously on our faces and in our characters the image of the heavenly.

II. Look for a moment at the second thought that is here: such a likeness to Jesus Christ is the only thing that will enable a man to lift up his head in the Day of Judgment.

‘We have boldness,’ says John, because ‘as He is, so are we.’ Now that is a very strong statement of a truth that popular, evangelical theology has far too much obscured. People talk about being, at the last, ‘accepted in the beloved.’ God be thanked, it is true. A sweet old hymn that a great many of us learned when we were children, though it is not so well known in these days, says:--

‘Bold shall I stand in that great day,

For who aught to my charge shall lay,

While through Thy blood absolved I am

From sin’s tremendous curse and shame?’

I believe that, and I try to preach it. But do not let us forget the other side. My text is in full accordance with the principles of our Lord’s own teaching; and who knows the principles of His own words so well as the judge, who tells us, in His pictures of that great day, that the question put to every man will be, not what you believe, but what did you do, and what are you?

But this truth of my text has been not only wounded in the house of the friends of Christianity, but it has been overlooked by one of the very frequent objections that we hear made to evangelical teaching, that, according to it, a man is judged according to his belief and not according to his deeds. A man is judged according to his--not belief--but according to his faith. But he is judged according also to--not his work--but according to his character.

And I wish, dear friends, to lay this upon your hearts, because many of us are too apt to forget it, that whilst unquestionably the beginning of salvation, and the condition of forgiveness here, and of acceptance hereafter, are laid in trust in Jesus Christ, that trust is sure to work out a character which is in conformity with His requirements and moulded after the likeness of Himself. ‘The judgment of God is according to truth,’ and what a man is determines where a man shall be, and what he shall receive through all eternity. Remember Christ’s own teaching. Remember the teaching of that other apostle than John, according to which the ‘wood, hay, stubble,’ built by a man upon the foundation shall be burned up, and the builder himself be saved, yet so as by fire. And lay this to heart, that it is only when faith works in us, through love and communion, characters like Jesus Christ’s, that we shall be able to stand--though even then we shall have to trust to divine and infinite mercy, and to the sprinkling of His blood--before the Throne of God. Lay up in store for yourselves a good foundation unto eternal life. And take this as the preaching of my text; character, and character alone, will stand the judgment of that great day.

There is no real antagonism between such truths and the widest preaching of salvation by faith. It is the same man who, in his gospel, says, as from the lips of the Lord Himself, ‘He that believeth is not judged,’ and in his letter says, ‘We may have boldness in that day, because, as He is, so are we in this world.’

III. One word about the last point; the process by which this likeness is secured.

That is contained, as I tried to show in my introductory remarks, in the earlier part of the verse. Our love is made perfect by dwelling in God, and God in us; in order that we may be thus conformed to Christ’s likeness, and so have boldness in that great day. To be like Jesus Christ, what is needed is that we love Him, and that we keep in touch with Him. What is it to ‘abide’ in Him?--to direct the continual flow of mind and love and will and practical obedience to Him, to bear Him ever in the secret place of my heart whilst my hands are occupied with daily business, and my feet are running the sometimes rough race that is set before me. Think of Him ever, love Him ever. Let His name be like a perfume breathed through the whole atmosphere of your lives. Keep your wills in the attitude of submission, of acceptance, of indecision when necessary, and of absolute dependence upon Him. Let your outward acts be such as shall not bring a film of separation between Him and you. When thus our whole being is steeped and drenched with Christ, then it cannot but be that we shall be like Him. Even ‘clouds themselves as suns appear, when the sun pierces them with light.’ ‘Abide in Me, and I in you.’ You cannot make yourselves like Christ, but you can fasten yourselves to Christ, and He will give you power which shall make you like Him.

But, remember, such abiding is no idle waiting, no passive confidence. It is full of energy, full of suppression, when necessary, of what is contrary to your truest self, and full of strenuous cultivation of that which is in accord with the will of the Father, and with the likeness of the ‘first-born among many brethren.’

Dear friends, lie in the light and you will become light. Abide in Christ, and you will get like Christ; and, being like Him, you will be able to lift up your heads, and rejoice when you front Him on the Throne, and you are at the bar. Then, when you are no more in the world, the likeness will be perfected, because the communion is complete. ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
1 John


1 John 4:18.

John has been speaking of boldness, and that naturally suggests its opposite--fear. He has been saying that perfect love produces courage in the day of judgment, because it produces likeness to Christ, who is the Judge. In my text he explains and enlarges that statement. For there is another way in which love produces boldness, and that is by its casting out fear. These two are mutually exclusive. The entrance of the one is for the other a notice to quit. We cannot both love and fear the same person or thing, and where love comes in, the darker form slips out at the door; and where Love comes in, it brings hand in hand with itself Courage with her radiant face. But boldness is the companion of love, only when love is perfect. For, inconsistent as the two emotions are, love, in its earlier stages and lower degrees, is often perturbed and dashed by apprehension and dread.

Now John is speaking about the two emotions in themselves, irrespective, so far as his language goes, of the objects to which they are directed. What he is saying is true about love and fear, whatever or whosoever may be loved or dreaded. But the context suggests the application in his mind, for it is ‘boldness before him’ about which he has been speaking; and so it is love and fear directed towards God which are meant in my text. The experience of hosts of professing Christians is only too forcible a comment upon the possibility of a partial Love lodging in the heart side by side with a fellow-lodger, Fear, whom it ought to have expelled. So there are three things here that I wish to notice--the empire of fear, the mission of fear, and the expulsion of fear.

I. The empire of fear.

Fear is a shrinking apprehension of evil as befalling us, from the person or thing which we dread. My text brings us face to face with that solemn thought that there are conditions of human nature, in which the God who ought to be our dearest joy and most ardent desire becomes our ghastliest dread. The root of such an unnatural perversion of all that a creature ought to feel towards its loving Creator lies in the simple consciousness of discordance between God and man, which is the shadow cast over the heart by the fact of sin. God is righteous; God righteously administers His universe. God enters into relations of approval or disapproval with His responsible creature. Therefore there lies, dormant for the most part, but present in every heart, and active in the measure in which that heart is informed as to itself, the slumbering, cold dread that between it and God things are not as they ought to be.

I believe, for my part, that such a dumb, dim consciousness of discord attaches to all men, though it is often smothered, often ignored, and often denied. But there it is; the snake hibernates, but it is coiled in the heart all the same; and warmth will awake it. Then it lifts its crested head, and shoots out its forked tongue, and venom passes into the veins. A dread of God is the ghastliest thing in the world, the most unnatural, but universal, unless expelled by perfect love.

Arising from that discomforting consciousness of discord there come, likewise, other forms and objects of dread. For if I am out of harmony with Him, what will be my fate in the midst of a universe administered by Him, and in which all are His servants? Oh! I sometimes wonder how it is that godless men front the facts of human life and do not go mad. For here are we, naked, feeble, alone, plunged into a whirlpool, from the awful vortices of which we cannot extricate ourselves. There foam and swirl all manner of evils, some of them certain, some of them probable, any of them possible, since we are at discord with Him who wields all the forces of the universe, and wields them all with a righteous hand. ‘The stars in their courses fight against’ the man that does not fight for God. Whilst all things serve the soul that serve Him, all are embattled against the man that is against, or not for, God and His will.

Then there arises up another object of dread, which, in like manner, derives all its power to terrify and to hurt from the fact of our discordance with God; and that is ‘the shadow feared of man,’ that stands shrouded by the path, and waits for each of us.

God; God’s universe; God’s messenger, Death--these are facts with which we stand in relation, and if our relations with Him are out of gear, then He and all of these are legitimate objects of dread to us.

But now there is something else that casts out fear than perfect love, and that is--perfect levity. For it is the explanation of the fact that so many of us know nothing of this fear of which I speak, and fancy that I am exaggerating, or putting forward false views. There is a type of man, and I have no doubt there are some of its representatives among my hearers, who are below both fear and love as directed towards God; for they never think about Him, or trouble their heads concerning either Him or their relations to Him or anything that flows therefrom. It is a strange faculty that we all have, of forgetting unwelcome thoughts and shutting our eyes to the things that we do not want to see, like Nelson when he puts the telescope to his blind eye at Copenhagen, because he would not obey the signal of recall. But surely it is an ignoble thing that men should ignore or shuffle out of sight with inconsiderateness the real facts of their condition, like boys whistling in a churchyard to keep their spirits up, and saying, ‘Who’s afraid?’ just because they are so very much afraid. Ah, dear friends, do not rest until you face the facts, and having faced them, have found the way to reverse them! Surely, surely it is not worthy of men to turn away from anything so certain as that between a sin-loving man and God there must exist such a relation as will bring evil and sorrow to that man, as surely as God is and he is. I beseech you, take to heart these things, and do not turn away from them with a shake of your shoulders, and say, ‘He is preaching the narrow, old-fashioned doctrine of a religion of fear.’ No! I am not. But I am preaching this plain fact, that a man who is in discord with God has reason to be afraid, and I come to you with the old exhortation of the prophet, ‘Be troubled, ye careless ones.’ For there is nothing more ignoble or irrational than security which is only made possible by covering over unwelcome facts. ‘Be troubled’; and let the trouble lead you to the Refuge.

II. That brings me to the second point--viz., the mission of fear.

John uses a rare word in my text when he says ‘fear hath torment.’ ‘Torment’ does not convey the whole idea of the word. It means suffering, but suffering for a purpose; suffering which is correction; suffering which is disciplinary; suffering which is intended to lead to something beyond itself. Fear, the apprehension of personal evil, has the same function in the moral world as pain has in the physical. It is a symptom of disease, and is intended to bid us look for the remedy and the Physician. What is an alarm bell for but to rouse the sleepers, and to hurry them to the refuge? And so this wholesome, manly dread of the certain issue of discord with God is meant to do for us what the angels did for Lot--to lay a mercifully violent hand on the shoulder of the sleeper, and shake him into aroused wakefulness, and hasten him out of Sodom, before the fire bursts through the ground, and is met by the fire from above. The intention of fear is to lead to that which shall annihilate it by taking away its cause.

There is nothing more ridiculous, nothing more likely to destroy a man, than the indulgence in an idle fear which does nothing to prevent its own fulfilment. Horses in a burning stable are so paralysed by dread that they cannot stir, and get burnt to death. And for a man to be afraid--as every one ought to be who is conscious of unforgiven sin--for a man to be afraid and there an end, is absolute insanity. I fear; then what do I do? Nothing. That is true about hosts of us.

What ought I to do? Let the dread direct me to its source, my own sinfulness. Let the discovery of my own sinfulness direct me to its remedy, the righteousness and the Cross of Jesus Christ. He, and He alone, can deal with the disturbing element in my relation to God. He can ‘deliver me from my enemies, for they are too strong for me.’ It is Christ and His work, Christ and His sacrifice, Christ and His indwelling Spirit that will grapple with and overcome sin and all its consequences, in any man and in every man; taking away its penalty, lightening the heart of the burden of its guilt, delivering from its love and dominion--all three of which things are the barbs of the arrows with which fear riddles heart and conscience. So my fear should proclaim to me the merciful ‘Name that is above every name,’ and drive me as well as draw me to Christ, the Conqueror of sin, and the Antagonist of all dread.

Brethren, I said I was not preaching the religion of Fear. But I think we shall scarcely understand the religion of Love unless we recognise that dread is a legitimate part of an unforgiven man’s attitude towards God. My fear should be to me like the misshapen guide that may lead me to the fortress where I shall be safe. Oh, do not tamper with the wholesome sense of dread! Do not let it lie, generally sleeping, and now and then waking in your hearts, and bringing about nothing. Sailors that crash on with all sails set--stunsails and all--whilst the barometer is rapidly falling, and boding clouds are on the horizon, and the line of the approaching gale is ruffling the sea yonder, have themselves to blame if they founder. Look to the falling barometer, and make ready for the coming storm, and remember that the mission of fear is to lead you to the Christ who will take it away.

III. Lastly, the expulsion of fear.

My text points out the natural antagonism, and mutual exclusiveness, of these two emotions. If I go to Jesus Christ as a sinful man, and get His love bestowed upon me, then, as the next verse to my text says, my love springs in response to His to me, and in the measure in which that love rises in my heart will it frustrate its antagonistic dread.

As I said, you cannot love and fear the same person, unless the love is of a very rudimentary and imperfect character. But just as when you pour pure water into a bladder, the poisonous gases that it may have contained will be driven out before it, so when love comes in, dread goes out. The river, turned into the foul Augean stables of the heart, will sweep out all the filth and leave everything clean. The black, greasy smoke-wreath, touched by the fire of Christ’s love, will flash out into ruddy flames, like that which has kindled them; and Christ’s love will kindle in your hearts, if you accept it and apprehend it aright, a love which shall burn up and turn into fuel for itself the now useless dread.

But, brethren, remember that it is ‘perfect love’ which ‘casts out fear.’

Inconsistent as the two emotions are in themselves, in practice, they may be united, by reason of the imperfection of the nobler. And in the Christian life they are united with terrible frequency. There are many professing Christian people who live all their days with a burden of shivering dread upon their shoulders, and an icy cold fear in their hearts, just because they have not got close enough to Jesus Christ, nor kept their hearts with sufficient steadfastness under the quickening influences of His love, to have shaken off their dread as a sick man’s distempered fancies. A little love has not mass enough in it to drive out thick, clustering fears. There are hundreds of professing Christians who know very little indeed of that joyous love of God which swallows up and makes impossible all dread, who, because they have not a loving present consciousness of a loving Father’s loving will, tremble when they front in imagination, and still more when they meet in reality, the evils that must come, and who cannot face the thought of death with anything but shrinking apprehension. There is far too much of the old leaven of selfish dread left in the experiences of many Christians. ‘I feared thee, because thou wert an austere man, and so, because I was afraid, I went and hid my talent, and did nothing for thee’ is a transcript of the experience of far too many of us. The one way to get deliverance is to go to Jesus Christ and keep close by Him.

And my last word to you is, see that you resort only to the sane, sound way of getting rid of the wholesome, rational dread of which I have been speaking. You can ignore it; and buy immunity at the price of leaving in full operation the causes of your dread--and that is stupid. There is only one wise thing to do, and that is, to make sure work of getting rid of the occasion of dread, which is the fact of sin. Take all your sin to Jesus Christ; He will--and He only can--deal with it. He will lay His hand on you, as He did of old, with the characteristic word that was so often upon His lips, and which He alone is competent to speak in its deepest meaning. ‘Fear not, it is I,’ and He will give you the courage that He commands.

‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.’ ‘Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father,’ and cling to Him, as a child who knows his father’s heart too well to be afraid of anything in his father, or of anything that his father’s hand can send.

We love him, because he first loved us.
1 John


1 John 4:19.

Very simple words! but they go down into the depths of God, lifting burdens off the heart of humanity, turning duty into delight, and changing the aspect of all things. He who knows that God loves him needs little more for blessedness; he who loves God back again offers more than all burnt offering and sacrifices. But it is to be observed that the correct reading of my text, as you will find in the Revised Version, omits ‘Him’ in the first clause, and simply says ‘we love,’ without specifying the object. That is to say, for the moment John’s thought is fixed rather on the inward transformation effected, from self-regard to love--than on considering the object on which the love is expended. When the heart is melted, the streams flow wherever there is a channel. The river, as he goes on to show us, parts into two heads, and love to God and love to man are, in their essence and root-principle, one thing.

So my text is the summary of all revelation about God, the ultimate word about all our relations to Him, and the all-inclusive directory as to our conduct to one another. To know that God loves, and to love again--there is a little pocket encyclopædia in two volumes, which contains the smelted-down essence of all theology and of all morality. Let us look at these three points.

I. The ultimate word about God.

‘He first loved us.’ Properly and strictly speaking, that ‘first’ only declares the priority of the divine love towards us over ours towards Him. But we may fairly give it a wider meaning, and say--first of all, ere Creation and Time, away back in the abysmal depths of an everlasting and changeless heart, changeless in the sense that its love was eternal, but not changeless in the sense that love could have no place within it--first of all things was God’s love; last to be discovered because most ancient of all. The foundation is disclosed last when you come to dig, and the essence is grasped last in the process of analysis.

So one of the old psalms, with wondrous depth of truth, traces up everything to this, ‘For His mercy endureth for ever.’ Therefore, there was time; therefore, there were creatures--’He made great lights, for His mercy endureth for ever.’ Therefore, there were judgments--’He slew famous kings ... for His mercy endureth for ever.’ And so we may pass through all the works of the divine energy, and say, ‘He first loved us.’

It is no accident that there are but foregleams of this great thought brightening the words and the thoughts of psalmist and prophet, saint and sage, from the beginning onwards, while the articulate utterance of the simple sentence was first heard from the lips of Him who declared the Father, and stands in that part of the Book which, both in its position there, and in its date of composition is the last of the Apostolic utterances. ‘God is love’;--that is in one aspect the foundation of His being, and in another aspect the shining ruby set on the very sky-piercing summit of the completed process of the revelation of that Being to man. ‘He first loved us’; and thence, from that centre and germinal point, streams out the whole train of consequences in the divine activity, and in the divine self-revelation.

I need not ask you to contrast with this infinitely simple and infinitely deep utterance all other thoughts of a divine Being--the cold abstractions of Theism, the dim dreads of popular apprehension, the vague utterances of any mythology, the clouds that men’s thoughts have covered over the face of this great truth--and then, to set by the side of all these groping, these peradventures, these fears, these narrow, unworthy ideas, the clear simplicity, the infinite depth of ‘He first loved us.’

But I may ask you to consider, but for a moment, the relation which all the other perfection of the divine nature have to this central and foundation one. There are all those pompous names, ‘Omnipresence’ and ‘Omniscience’ and the like, which are but the negations of the limitations of humanity or of finite creatures. There are the more spiritual and moral thoughts of Wisdom and Righteousness and the like. These are but the fringes of the glory: I was going to venture to say that the divinest thing in God is love. There is the central blaze; the rest is but the brilliant periphery that encloses it. And that infinite love stands to all these other attributes in the relation of being their master and motive spring. They are Love’s instrument, and in the divine nature Love is Lord of all. They give it majesty; it gives them tenderness. We may reverently say, in regard to the divine nature, what the Apostle says about our humanity, that love is the ‘bond of perfectness’--the girdle which, braced round all the garments, keeps them in their place. For round these infinite, innumerable, unnameable, and named divine perfections, is that which brings them all into symmetry and keeps them all in harmonious action--Love. He has wisdom, and power, and eternal being, but He is Love.

But do not let us forget that whilst thus my text proclaims the ultimate truth, these other attributes, as they are called, are all smelted down, as it were, into, and present in, the love which is their crown. The same Apostle, who has thus the honour of ringing out to the world the good news that God is Love, declares that ‘this is the message’ which he has to tell, that ‘God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.’ So the light of righteousness, as well as the lambent flame of love, burn together on that central fire of the universe. We must not so conceive of the love of God, as to darken the radiance of His righteousness, or to obscure the brilliancy of that pure light which tolerates no admixture of darkness.

May I venture a step further, and ask whether we are not warranted in believing that in that which we call the love of God there do abide the same elements as characterise the thing that bears the same name in our human experience? The spectrum has told us that the constituents of the mighty sun in the heavens are the same as the constituents of this little darkened earth. And there are the same lines in the divine spectrum that there are in ours. So if we can venture to say of Him, He is Love, do not let us shrink from saying that then, like us, He delights in the companionship of His beloved; that, like us, He rejoices in giving Himself to His beloved; that, like us, but infinitely, He desires the good of His beloved; and that, like us, He seeks only for the requital of an answering love. All these things, the joy of the Lord in man, the yielding of the Lord to man, the beneficent desire of the Lord for the good of man, and the hunger of the Lord for the response of love from man--all these things are affirmed when we affirm that God is Love.

Our Apostle would concur heartily in the great text which was the theme of a recent sermon. Paul said, ‘God establishes His love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ John says, ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’

So the Cross of Christ is the one demonstration that God loved us. Looking to it we can say, with a great modern teacher:--

‘So the All-great were the All-loving too,

So through the thunder comes a human voice,

Saying "Oh! heart I made; a heart beats here,

Face, My hands fashioned, see it in Myself;

Thou hast no power, nor mayest conceive of Mine;

But love I gave thee, with Myself to love,

And thou must love Me, who have died for thee."‘

II. Here we have the ultimate word as to our religion.

‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’ There is a bridge wanted between these two, and the bridge is supplied abundantly in this letter, in entire harmony with the teaching of the rest of the New Testament. Much has been said, and profitably said, with reference to the modification of the general type of Christian teaching in the writings respectively of Paul, Peter, James, and John. I thankfully recognise the diversities. They are not divergencies; they are perfectly complementary, and may all be made to harmonise. This Apostle of love has also declared to us how it comes that the love which burns at the centre of things, where there is a heart, kindles a responding love away out on the circumference of things, where there are men with hearts; and the bridge is--’We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.’ So says John. And Paul, the Apostle of faith, who sometimes seems as if his only conception of the link of union between God and man was, on the part of man, faith, responds when he speaks of a faith which worketh, comes to energetic operation, through the love which it has kindled.

So we come to this, that a simple trust in the love of God, as manifested in Jesus Christ, our Lord, is the only thing which will so deal with man’s natural self-regard and desire to make himself his own object and centre, as to substitute for that the victorious love to God. You cannot love God, unless you believe that He loves you. You will never be absolutely sure of that, unless you have learned it from the Cross of Christ. You will not respond with the love that He desires, but there will be a film between your ice and the fire that could melt it, until that is swept away by the simple act of confidence in God manifested to you in Jesus Christ. This is Christianity; this, nothing less, is religion--to love God, because I believe that in Jesus Christ God has loved me.

And that is the only thing that He desires or accepts. The Religion of Fear; what is it? ‘Thou wert an austere man ... and I was afraid.’ Yes! and what did you do when you were afraid? ‘I hid my talent in the ground,’ and was utterly idle. Here rise, on either side of the valley, two mountains--Ebal and Gerazim. From the one were thundered the curses, from the other broke the benediction of the blessings; the one is barren, the other is verdant--’which thing is an allegory.’ The Religion of Fear does nothing, the Religion of Love does all. The Religion of Self-interest is narrow, poor, mostly inoperative of any lofty enthusiasm or high nobleness of character. The Religion of Duty; ‘I ought to worship, I am bidden to do this, that, or the other thing, which I do not a bit like to do. I am forbidden to do this, that, and the other thing which I should very much like to do, if I durst’--that religion is the religion of a slave; and there are hosts of us that know nothing better. And so our Christianity is a feeble and an uncomfortable thing; and there are little joy, and little subjugation of the will, and little leaping up of the heart in glad obedience in it. I was talking to a good, aged man, not long ago, whose religion was of a very gloomy type. He said to me, ‘As to love, I know next to nothing about it.’ Ah! brethren, I am afraid that is true about a good many of us who call ourselves Christians.

Then let me say, too, that if we love Him, it will be the motive power and spring of all manner of obediences and glad services. Love is the mother-tincture, so to speak, which you can colour, and to which you can add in various ways, and produce variously tinted and tasted and perfumed commixtures. Love lies at the foundation of all Christian goodness. It will lead to the subjugation of the will; and that is the thing that is most of all needed to make a man righteous and pure. So St. Augustine’s paradox, rightly understood, is a magnificent truth, ‘Love! and do what you will.’ For then you will be sure to will what God wills, and you ought.

If this be the summing-up of all religion, a practical conclusion follows. When we feel ourselves defective in the glow and operative driving power of love to God, what is the right thing to do? When a man is cold, he will not warm himself by putting a clinical thermometer into his mouth, and taking his temperature, will he? Let him go into the sunshine and he will be warmed up. You can pound ice in a mortar, and except for the little heat generated by the impact of the pestle, it will keep ice still. But float the iceberg south into the tropics, and what has become of it? It has all run down into sweet, warm water, and mingled with the warm ocean that has dissolved it. So do not think about yourselves and your own loveless hearts so much, but think about God, and the infinite welling up of love in His heart to you, a great deal more. ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’; therefore, to love Him more, we must feel more that He does love us.

III. Lastly, here is the ultimate word about our conduct to men.

I said that John, by leaving out any specification of the object of love, as well as by the verses that immediately follow, shows that he regards the emotion as one, though its direction is two-fold. That just comes to the plain truth, that the only victorious antagonist to the self-regarding temperament of average men, and the only power which will change philanthropy from a sentiment into a self-denying and active principle of conduct, is to be found in the belief of the love of God in Jesus Christ, and in answering love to Him.

That is a lesson for many sorts of people to-day. What they call altruism is no discovery of Christianity, but its practice is. I freely admit that there is much honest and self-sacrificing beneficence and benevolence which are not connected, in the men who practice them, with faith in Jesus Christ. But I question very much whether these would have existed if the story of the Cross had been unknown. And sure I am that the history of non-Christian attempts to promote the brotherhood of man, and to diffuse a wide and operative love of mankind, teaches us, on the one side, that the emotion is not strong enough to last, and to work, unless it is based on God’s love in Jesus Christ. And the history of Christianity, on the other side, though with many defects and things to be ashamed of, teaches us, conversely, that wherever there is a genuine love of God, its exterior form, so to say, the outside of it which is presented to the world, will be true love to man.

Christian people, lay this to heart; you are to be mirrors of the love to which you turn for all blessedness and peace. It is of no use to say, ‘My religion is the love of God’ unless the love of God is manifested in the love of man. If you love God, you will love those that God loves, those for whom Christ died, those who are just like what you were when you learned that God loved you. The service of God is the service of man.

One last word, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us.’ Do you? Or is it rather true of you: ‘I do not love God, though He has loved me’? I saw not long since, up on the flank of a mountain, an obstinate patch of snow, that had fronted, in unmelted cold, months of the summer sun. There are some of us who lift a broad shield of thick-ribbed ice between ourselves and the radiance of the warm heart of God. Oh! brother; do not shut that love out of your heart; for if you do, you shut out peace and goodness, and shut in all manner of poisonous creatures and doleful shapes, whose companionship will be misery and death.

Expositions Of Holy Scripture, Alexander MacLaren

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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