Great Texts of the Bible
The Amazing Gift of Love
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.—John 3:16.
1. This is perhaps the favourite text in the Bible—one of the first texts which we learn as children, and one whose meaning becomes only the more precious to us as we grow older. For in these few simple words the whole Gospel is summed up. The depth of God’s love, the greatness of His gift, and the blessings which He freely offers to us—all are made known to us every time that we repeat these words.
I suppose it is a common fact of experience that those who live within sound of church bells after awhile do not notice their striking; might I suggest that something similar may be true of the great bell-note that is struck for us in the opening clause of this text? Which of us is sufficiently sensitive or responsive to its vibrations? Which of us realizes sufficiently that these words proclaim a final truth, the culmination of religious thought, something never to be transcended?1 [Note: J. Warschauer.]
2. It is no accident that has given to this statement its unique place in the mind and heart of Christendom. The deepest thinker sees in this verse a summing-up of the Gospel; the humblest believer feels that it expresses the whole substance of his faith. The inspired writer gathers himself up, as it were, to a supreme effort, and presents in one majestic, sweeping, comprehensive sentence the essence of Christian belief. And there stands the declaration still in all its simple grandeur, in all its boundless love, in all its mighty power. Centuries have passed over it, and left no impress. Time has failed to impair its freshness; it is the same to-day as it was yesterday. That which it is to-day it will be for ever. For eighteen hundred years and more it has poured forth its blessings with unceasing flow upon the foolish and the wise, upon the sinner and the saint, upon the martyr and his murderer. Years have thrown no new light upon its meaning. The wisdom and learning of men, the meditations of the holiest and the best, have not added one jot to our comprehension of its mystery. Age upon age of opposition, of scorn, and of derision have as little succeeded in shaking its power. When we accept it in all its fulness, is it not still as much the source of joy as when it supported men, women, and children to a cruel death, gladly offering their lives in its defence? When we reject it, what can we offer in its place to support the weak or encourage the desperate? Is it not still the most sovereign balm to bind up the broken hearts of mourners; the surest stay of the dying? Is it not still the silver clarion, whose peal rises high and clear above the din of strife—stirring wearied soldiers of Christ to renew their struggle with evil, whether within their own hearts or in the world? Is it not still the rock upon which Christianity is founded? Is it not in reality the sum and substance of Christianity itself?
For six nights Mr. Moorhouse had preached on this one text. The seventh night came and he went into the pulpit. Every eye was upon him. He said, “Beloved friends, I have been hunting all day for a new text, but I cannot find anything so good as the old one, so we will go back to John 3:16”; and he preached the seventh sermon from those wonderful words: “God so loved the world.” I remember the end of that sermon: “My friends,” he said, “for a whole week I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you, but I cannot do it with this poor stammering tongue. If I could borrow Jacob’s ladder, and climb up into Heaven, and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, to tell me how much love the Father has for the world, all he could say would be: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ ”1 [Note: Life of D. L. Moody, 128.]
At the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910, Dr. Tasaku Harada, President of the Doshisha College, said: “As regards the aspects of the Christian Gospel and Christian life which appeal to the Japanese, in the first place I mention the love of God. Dr. Neesima used to say that he regarded the 16th verse of the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel as the Fujiyama of the New Testament—‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’ If there are two words which have created the greatest transformation since the introduction of Christianity into Japan they are the words ‘God’ and ‘love.’ ”1 [Note: World Missionary Conference, 1910, iv. 305.]
Fuji, it should be said, is not only the sacred mountain of Japan but the ideal of excellence. Its almost perfect cone can be seen from most parts of the main island, and it forms the background of many Japanese landscapes, whether actually visible or not.
3. These words explain to us the relation in which Jesus stands as Son of man, first to God and next to us; and they interpret to our understanding, as well as to our faith and affection, the method by which the Eternal seeks us and finds us, saves us from ourselves and our sins, grants us the quickening sense of pardon, and fills us with the calm and strength of His everlasting life. Selecting the familiar incident from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the brazen serpent is lifted up before the dying people, Jesus says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life”: and then He adds the sublime statement, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Now, this revelation is inexhaustible in its significance. It is a gospel within a gospel; and though uttered almost as swiftly as a morning salutation, yet it comprehends the contents of all the Gospels. It is as when, beginning our study of the universe, we start with a sea-beach, a stone-quarry, or a flower-garden, and then rise from it to the everlasting hills, thence to the infinite splendours of the midnight sky, and afterwards, through telescopes of ever-increasing power, look into the depths of the immeasurable heavens, adding world to world, and system to system, till we are overwhelmed with the marvel and grandeur of the realms of God; so, beginning with this primal declaration of the only begotten Son who dwelt in the bosom of the Father, and learning some of its contents, we are led on and on in our investigation, charmed by its simplicity, gladdened by its wealth, and awed by its mystery, till, mastered by our effort to comprehend the breadth and length, depth and height of the message, even St. Paul’s language is too poor to express our wonder and our praise: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and unto him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever.”
The “comfortable words,” as they are called, in the Order of Holy Communion (Matthew 11:28; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:1-2), form an element peculiar to the English rite, being found elsewhere only in those liturgies which derive their inheritance through the channel of the English Reformation. They appeared for the first time in the Prayer-Book of 1549, and their insertion was apparently suggested to our Reformers by the recent issue on the Continent of a manual, based on the work of Luther, Bucer, and Melanchthon, which contained numerous hints for reform in liturgical worship, and has left traces of its influence in other parts of the Book of Common Prayer. All will agree that the step here taken by our Revisers was a distinct enrichment of our Service, and that they have introduced a most beautiful characteristic of our present liturgy. You remember the place at which the words occur. The congregation is invited to kneel and join in a united confession of sin; and then, after the absolution has been pronounced, the four words of comfort are recited to the people, assuring them of the reality and meaning of that spiritual exercise in which they have been engaged. At such a moment each speaks with an eloquence which the heart of the faithful worshipper can readily understand. No comment is added, because none is required, and any paraphrase would be felt to jar upon the ear. The actual language of Holy Writ has been incorporated into the scheme of our liturgy, and the utterances of our Lord and His Apostles are left to make good by themselves the force of their appeal.1 [Note: H. T. Knight. The Cross, the Font, and the Altar, 1.]
4. Let us distribute the text into parts for easier apprehension, and in such a way as seems to us best “for the use of edifying.” Dr. Warschauer proceeds in a direct line, taking the thoughts of the verse as they come—(1) God, (2) a loving God, (3) a great Giver, (4) the Gift of the Son, (5) Belief, (6) Eternal Life. Dr. Eadie makes God’s Love the subject, and begins with the world as the Object of God’s love, takes next the Gift of God’s love, and ends with the Design of God’s love. Dr. Maclaren’s divisions are: (1) The great Lake—“God so loved the world”; (2) the River—“that he gave his only begotten Son”; (3) the Pitcher—“that whosoever believeth on him”; (4) the Draught—“should have eternal life.” If any criticism should be made of so effective and attractive a division of the text, it would be that it misses the prominence due to the world. For it has to be remembered that the revelation to Nicodemus was twofold—first, that he, a Pharisee, had to be born again before he could enter the Kingdom of God; and, next, that the way was open not only to Pharisees, but to sinners, including sinners of the Gentiles, that is to say, to the whole world. And it is this second part of the great revelation that St. John is now giving us. Accordingly the next verse proceeds, “For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him.”
Let us, then, in order to keep the world-wide offer in our mind throughout, adopt this method of exposition—
God and the World—“God so loved the world.”
Christ and the World—“that he gave his only begotten Son.”
III. The World and Christ—“that whosoever believeth on him.”
IV. The World and God—“should not perish but have eternal life.”
God and the World
“God so loved the world.”
The introductory “for” shows that this verse presents itself as the reason of a previous statement. The reference in it is to a remarkable incident in the history of ancient Israel. They had, in one of their periodical fits of national insanity, so provoked God that He sent among them “fiery flying serpents,” and many of them were bitten and died. But to counteract the chastisement, and make its terror a means of salutary impression, Moses was commanded to frame a brazen figure of one of the poisonous reptiles, and place it on the summit of a flagstaff, so that any wounded Hebrew might be able to see it from the extremity of the camp. And every one, no matter how sorely he felt the poison in his fevered veins, if he could only turn his languid vision to the sacred emblem, was instantly healed. It is then asserted that salvation is a process of equal simplicity, facility, and certainty—“even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on him may have eternal life.” But why are belief and salvation so connected; and how comes it that any one, every one, confiding in the Son of man, is rescued and blessed—saved from the death which he has merited, and elevated to a life which he had forfeited? This pledge of safety and glory to the believer has its origin in nothing else than the truth of the text: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Jesus begins with God; God Himself, God in His totality; not with His “attributes” or “qualities,” but with Himself in His redeeming activity. God is; is the first and last; and Jesus who knows Him, and knows Him as no other visitant of our earth does, starts in His description of redemption not from man, in his weltering wickedness and glaring rebellions, but from God in His eternally loving thought of us. It is permissible to take the opposite order, beginning with the lowest and ascending to the highest; but it is wiser in this, as in all else, to follow the Master, and look first, not at man, his sinning and its fateful consequences, but at God and His love of the world, and what it leads to. Salvation belongs to the Lord. The righteous Lord delights in mercy, and Jesus knows it and affirms it, as the supreme and all-controlling fact in our interpretation of God and of His world.
1. There is perhaps no text that speaks so directly to the Christian heart. There is none perhaps that finds a more immediate or more enthusiastic welcome in our breast; because we feel that in it we have the answer to all the devious problems of intellect and the most pressing and urgent needs of our soul. For what after all is the great problem of all problems that come into the quiet of our own hearts? What is it that we most want to have assurance about? Surely in our deepest moments the thought that presses home most upon us is, What kind of a God is it we have to deal with? Is He a God who cares for us and loves us, or is He a God who moves so far away from us that we are, as it were, but the dust of the balance in His sight?
2. What, then, does the word “God” mean to us? There is probably no question that goes deeper to the root than this. We are not specially helped, certainly not in our religious life, when we have admitted that there must be a Supreme Power which has created and sustains the visible world. Granted that is so, such a Power has little to say to us. We might acknowledge its existence as we acknowledge the existence of some far-off fixed star, and with just as much or as little practical result, just as little effect upon our thought and life. Not that God is, but what God is, is what matters to us; nobody can be vitally interested in some far-off, great first cause, and we certainly are no better off—worse, if anything—when we hear or use such empty phrases as the totality of being, instead of speaking of our Father in heaven.
ii. God’s Love
1. A God who does not care, does not count; if He is not interested in us, how—to say it boldly—are we to be interested in Him? That is why, in practice, pantheism is hardly to be distinguished from atheism; you cannot worship a totality of being—you cannot pray to a nameless Power that is heedless of your welfare, not concerned in human joy or despair. No, the assurance which man’s soul craves is that which bursts upon him in this declaration, “God so loved the world.”
For a loving worm within the clod
Were better far than a loveless God.
He created the world, not in order to escape the boredom of eternity, but from love; He called souls into being, not for the purpose of conducting an endless series of aimless experiments, but in order that His love might have objects on which to bestow itself; He leads them, not through a gnat-like span of existence to the gloom of annihilation, but to the home of everlasting love. That conception—and it alone—gives us anything worth calling a religion; and because Christianity insists upon and emphasizes this conception—God’s love of the world and for the human soul—it is the absolute religion.
If our endeavours, our struggles, our failures, our hopes, our aspirations, were nothing to the Eternal, what could the Eternal be to us? Here is a human document which came into my hands only a couple of days ago. The writer says: “The conception of God that I now have is not the personal one that I had under the old belief.… Instead of living under the daily notice of God’s favour or resentment, I find that … we are but unnoticed units in all the vast millions of the universe. The result is that I am questioning the value of life.” Can you wonder? I do not wonder at all! But if we feel that His eye is upon us, that our little lives mean something to His heart, that we matter to Him, and that His intention is for our good, then that very fact lifts our lives out of insignificance, makes the conflict worth waging, and enables the toiler, the sufferer, the witness for truth and right to say in the midst of seeming defeat and desolation, “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” God loves the world: all faith which stops short of that lacks the element which makes it faith indeed.1 [Note: J. Warschauer.]
2. “God loves.” Where, outside of Christianity, does anybody dare to say that as a certainty? Men have hoped it; men have feared that it could not be; men have dimly dreamed and strongly doubted; men have had gods cruel, gods lustful, gods capricious, gods good-natured, gods indifferent or apathetic, but a loving God is the discovery of Christianity. Neither the gross deities of heathenism, nor the shadowy god of theism, nor the unknown somewhat which (perhaps) “makes for righteousness” of our modern agnostics, presents anything like this—“God loves.”
It seems to us a simple and purely elementary truth that God is holy love, but how could we have known anything about it without Christ and the revelation made by Him? Nature and history show us clearly the wise and mighty God, but where do they show Him as holy and loving?2 [Note: R. Rothe, Still Hours, 107.]
God is here set forth as a lover; loving men, all men, every man. “God so loved the world.” Let us then at once make an addition to the first avowal of the Apostles’ Creed, and say:—“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and lover of the whole world.” We sing, “Jesus, lover of my soul.” We have equal right and warrant to sing, “God the Father Almighty, lover of my soul.”1 [Note: H. Johnson, From Love to Praise, 10.]
iii. The World
This designation of the object upon which the Divine love rested and rests eternally is to be interpreted according to the usage of this Gospel, and that usage distinctly gives to the expression “the world” not only the meaning of the total of humanity, but also the further meaning of humanity separated by its own evil from God. And so we get, not only the statement of the universality of the love of God, but also this great truth, that no sin or unworthiness, no unfaithfulness or rebellion, nothing which degrades humanity even to its lowest depths, and seems all but to extinguish the spark within it that is capable of being fanned into a flame, has the least power to deflect, turn back, or alter the love of God. That love falls upon “the world,” the mass of men who have wrenched themselves away from Him, but cannot wrench Him away from themselves. They never can prevent His love from pouring itself over them; even as the bright waters of the ocean will break over some grim rock, black in the sunshine. Thus the outcasts, criminals, barbarians, degraded people that the world consents to regard as irrevocably bad and hopeless are all grasped in His love.
The first meaning of the Greek word for world (kosmos) is “order.” And as all order is more or less beautiful, the second meaning of the term is “ornament.” The word is found with this meaning in 1 Peter 3:3,—“Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” After the word had for ages been employed by the Greeks in these acceptations, it occurred to one of the greatest thinkers that ever lived that there was no order so wonderful as the order of the universe, no ornament so ornamental, so real, as the great world. Hence he employed the word which signified “order” and “ornament” to designate the “world.” The Holy Spirit, who guided the holy men who wrote the New Testament, approving of his idea, adopted the Greek term in its Pythagorean sense. And thus it is that we read such expressions as the following:—“The invisible things of God from the creation of the (orderly and beautiful) world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” “Glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
To the eye of most of the ancients, however, the sun and the stars, instead of being orbs greater and more glorious than our earth, were only luminaries or lamps to light us by day and by night. The earth was to them almost all the universe. And it was the earth especially which they called the world. This import of the term became stereotyped; and thus we read in the Bible: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
But this world—the earth—is the temporary home of a vast multitude of thinking beings, every one of whom seems to be more wonderful and glorious than the vast earth on which he moves and has his being. These thinking beings use the earth; the earth does not use them. They think of the earth; the earth does not think of them. They feel too,—they feel the earth; the earth does not feel them. They live; the earth does not live. They are the lords of the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over it. They are men; and as they rise into the consciousness of what they are, they gradually reach the idea—“We are the world; the earth is beneath our feet.” The men of the earth are a world upon a world. They are a thinking, feeling, will-endowed, moral world. They are “the world.” Hence it is that we read of “all the world being guilty before God.” God shall “judge the world.” And in this Gospel according to Jesus, our Saviour is His own herald, and says that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The “world,” then, which is loved by God, is the world of men.
It is, we may add, the world of all men. The word “world,” when not expressly limited in its scope by the mention of the parties to whom it refers, or when not obviously limited by the nature of the case, must be understood in its simple, unrestricted, universal acceptation. It is not expressly limited here by the mention of any mere section of the race. The expression is not “the fashionable world,” “the scientific world,” “the religious world,” “the commercial world,” “the literary world,” “the busy world.” Neither is there anything in the nature of the case referred to,—there is nothing in the nature of God’s love,—that should lead us to suppose that it is confined either to the religious, or to the fashionable, or the scientific, or the commercial, or the busy, or the literary. It must be the whole world—the world of all men—that is referred to.
It is true that the word “world” is sometimes hyperbolically used with a limited reference. Even the expression, “the whole world,” is sometimes thus used. We read that “the whole world lieth in wickedness”; although in that very passage we also read that they who believe in Christ are not lying in wickedness, but are “of God.” Jesus said to His disciples, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Here the word “world” obviously means somewhat less than all men. It means “the worldly.” It means those who are characterized by the spirit which actuated men in general all over the world.
But in the text it is not used with limitation. It is the world of all men, without distinction or exception, that is meant. It is the same world which is called “the whole world” in that other precious little gospel which runs thus:—“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” The true extent of the import of the word may be seen in those other passages which assure us that there “is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,” and who tasted death for every Man 1:1 [Note: J. Morison, Holiness and Happiness, 14.]
1. But what about election? There is nothing in this text about it. God so loved the world—not a portion of the world—not the elect. The elect are only a part of the world and chosen out of it. But this love of God is world-wide, for everybody, without a hint of election in it. It sweeps away out beyond election, and has no boundaries, no limitations, no reservations.
I believe in election. It is one of the great basal truths of Scripture, and a most blessed doctrine, charged with infinite stay and comfort for God’s believing children. It puts the Father’s everlasting arms about every child of His, and makes it certain he will never perish. But while it clearly and definitely includes somebody, it just as clearly and positively excludes nobody. It makes heaven sure for the chosen, but it keeps no one out of heaven. It is no chain gang bound about the necks of men, dragging some to salvation and some to perdition.1 [Note: H. Johnson, From Love to Praise, 17.]
2. This is the vital doctrine of election, the election of some for the benediction of the whole. “I pray for these, that the world may believe.” The elect are called not to a sphere of exclusion, but to a function of transmission. They are elected not to privilege, but to service; not to the secret hoarding of blessing, but to its widespread distribution. The elect are not circles, but centres, heat centres for radiating gracious influence to remote circumferences, that under its warming and softening ministry “the world may believe” in the Son of God. That is the way of the Master. He will work upon the frozen streams and rivers of the world by raising the general temperature. He seeks to increase the fervour of those who are His own, and, through the pure and intense flame of their zeal, to create an atmosphere in which the hard frozen indifference of the world shall be melted into wonder, into tender inquisition, that on the cold altar of the heart may be kindled the fire of spiritual devotion. “I pray not for the world, but for these … that the world may believe.” Through the disciple He seeks the vagrant; through the believer He seeks the unbeliever; through the Church He seeks the world; through the ministry of Christian men and women the world is to be won for Christ.
iv. God’s Love of the World
God loves the world, the world of men, Gentile as well as Jew, Cornelius not less than Nicodemus, Scythian as well as Syrian, bond not less than free. God in His totality loves man in his totality, loves his welfare, which is purity and peace, faith and love, self-poise and perseverance, devotion to high ideals, and enduring joy. “There is no difference.” The Divine love is infinite as the Divine nature. It has no exclusions. Sin divides, degrades, excludes, but God is at war with sin. He loves the world. This is the glorious fact that sends its clear, pulsing light through all our human life. Oh, the joy, the unutterable joy of it! God loves the prodigal who in his wayward folly has lost the track to the Father’s house, the rebel who has defied His misjudged authority, the ingrate who has despised His goodness; and yet His love is such that it conquers their sin and ends their sinning, and brings them back to the Father’s home penitent, obedient, and grateful.
1. How can it be that God loves such a world? A partial explanation lies in the fact that it is God’s nature to love, that while others are by nature hard and unpitying, and even vengeful, God by nature is tender, sympathetic, and merciful. Yet it is the most tremendous statement that has ever confronted the human mind, the statement of God’s gracious love for the world. It is the most difficult statement for the belief of man to grasp.
2. There are those who are eminently disgusted with God’s world, who claim that we cannot have high moral perceptions and know humanity without feeling that humanity is despicable. There are those who would sweep the whole multitude of mankind into the sea and drown them; they have no patience with them and they have no hope for them. When, then, the theory is propounded that though God did indeed create this world and start humanity, He later cast off all thought of the world, having no further concern for humanity, the theory appeals to such persons, and they say that through such a theory they can understand the meaning of human life.
(1) But any such theory is apart from the supreme fact of revelation. That supreme fact teaches that, the very nature of God being love, His love insistently and persistently goes out to every one of His creatures. If it be asked how can it be possible that a holy God in His omniscience can thus love those who are wrong, incomplete, and unattractive, the answer is that in that omniscience lies largely our explanation of His love. The Eastern shepherd, because he knows each individual sheep of his flock, knows the needs of each individual sheep. Did not Longfellow say that it makes no difference who the man is, provided we know him, know his temptations and trials, we are sure to love him? Is it not also said that no man can hate another if he understands all his failures and distresses? The prejudice of man towards his fellow is based on man’s ignorance of his fellow. Nothing in all this earth so awakens interest in the individual as acquaintance with the individual. The person who is actually hideous as a perfect stranger, as an acquaintance is found to have a past history and a present experience that appeal to pity and even to love. A. C. Benson, in Seen from a College Window, says: “If the dullest person in the world would only put down sincerely what he or she thought about his or her life, about work and love, religion and emotion, it would be a fascinating document.”
(2) Beyond God’s omniscience lies His realization of the possible development of each one of all His world. He never is ashamed of humanity and He never allows that He has made a mistake in creating humanity. He believes that deep down in every human heart there are possibilities of development into beauty and even into power. Throughout history He has been laying His hand upon all sorts of people in sheepfolds or on farms, in obscure villages, in streets of both small and great cities, and He has summoned them to great riches of character, and to great usefulness of service. Where others look in hopelessness, He looks in profound expectation. To Him humanity has expressed itself in the spirit and conduct of Jesus Christ, and He anticipates that man after man from all sections and tribes of the earth will measure up to the likeness of Christ; and He rejoices with abundant joy when the Magdalenes are restored, the lepers are healed, the dumb sing, the blind see, and the dead live again. God is always anticipating glorious transformations of character.
3. Do we realize that, when we say “God loves the world,” that really means, as far as each of us is concerned, God loves me? And just as the whole beams of the sun come pouring down into every eye of the crowd that is looking up to it, so the whole love of God pours down, not upon a multitude, an abstraction, a community, but upon every single soul that makes up that community. He loves us all because He loves each of us. We shall never get all the good of that thought until we translate it, and lay it upon our hearts. It is all very well to say, “Ah yes! God is love,” and it is all very well to say He loves “the world.” But what is a great deal better is to say, as St. Paul said, “Who loved me and gave himself for me.”
When we speak of loving a number of individuals—the broader the stream, the shallower it is, is it not? The most intense patriot in England does not love her one ten-thousandth part as well as he loves his own little girl. When we think or feel anything about a great multitude of people, it is like looking at a forest. We do not see the trees, we see the whole wood. But that is not how God loves the world. Suppose I said that I loved the people in India, I should not mean by that that I had any feeling about any individual soul of all those dusky millions, but only that I massed them all together, or made what people call a generalization of them. But that is not the way in which God loves. He loves all because He loves each. And when we say, “God so loved the world,” we have to break up the mass into its atoms, and to think of each atom as being an object of His love. We all stand out in God’s love just as we should do to one another’s eyes if we were on the top of a mountain-ridge with a clear sunset sky behind us. Each little black dot of the long procession would be separately visible. And we all stand out like that, every man of us isolated, and getting as much of the love of God as if there were not another creature in the whole universe but God and ourselves.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
After this he seems to have again paid a flying visit to Bathgate, the residence of his brother-in-law; for to this year belongs a beautiful anecdote told of him in that place. A young man belonging to the Church there was very ill, “dying of consumption.” Mr. Martin had promised to take his distinguished relative to see this youth, and Irving’s time was so limited, that the visit had to be paid about six in the morning, before he started on his further journey. When the two clergymen entered the sick chamber, Irving went up to the bedside, and looking in the face of the patient said softly, but earnestly, “George M——, God loves you; be assured of this—God loves you.” When the hurried visit was over, the young man’s sister, coming in, found her patient in a tearful ecstasy not to be described. “What do you think? Mr. Irving says God loves me,” cried the dying lad, overwhelmed with the confused pathetic joy of that great discovery. The sudden message had brought sunshine and light into the chamber of death.2 [Note: Mrs. Oliphant, The Life of Edward Irving, ii. 87.]
4. “God so loved the world.” The pearl of this wonderful statement is the measure it supplies of that eternal love which redeems sinful man. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” It is the earthly way of describing the sacrifice God makes of God, of His true and real self for man. Language could not more clearly or strongly declare the fact that God gives Himself, His essential self, to the temptation and toil, the suffering and anguish, of our limited and burdened life, that He may carry out His world-loving purpose.
The marvel of God’s love for mankind grows as we learn the degree of that love. It is the degree of it that is apocalyptic. The Old Testament had attempted to disclose the graciousness of God, telling men that like as a father pities, so God pities. Exterior nature too had tried to make known God’s healing and comforting power; abundant harvests telling of His affection, zephyrs breathing His soothing kindness, health-giving air and the recuperative tendencies within every normal body indicating that love is over mankind. But the degree of that love was never known to any man, however scholarly, until it was revealed when God out of desire to secure to man the highest possible good actually gave His Son for Man 1:1 [Note: J. G. K. McClure, Supreme Things, 19.]
Winds weary with the old sea tune
Slide inland with some cloud, and soon
From woods that whisper summer noon
Weigh their wight wings with odour boon.
So I, long salted in our ocean drear
Of disbelief that Essence can be won
By any form of thought invented here,
Felt such a gush of joy about
My heart-roots, as if in and out
’Twas life-blood billowed; and as stout
As once we sent the battle-shout
Pitching clear notes against barbaric din,—
Oh, brother, my soul’s voice against the rout
Of unbeliefs a man doth muse within,
Arising and protesting wild,
Spake, speaking out untruth defiled;
Spake, speaking in the truth exiled;
Spake, Little head and weary child,
Come home, God loves, God loves through sin and shame,—
Come home, God loves His world.2 [Note: Richard Watson Dixon.]
Christ and the World
“He gave his only begotten Son.”
The evidence of the love of God is the advent of God into the sinful and suffering life of man, bearing sin vicariously as His way of eradicating it from the heart and will of the sinner. “God,” as St. Paul says, “was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus”—“the effulgence of the Father’s glory and the very image of his person,” uniquely and inexpressibly related to Him as “the only begotten Son”—He, and not a stranger, nor a seraph; He, and not one of the ordinary sons of men—“came into the world to save sinners”; to enter into contest with the awful power of sin; to make an end of it, and to bring in an everlasting righteousness.
Here, then, in the life of Jesus are the only unerring measures of the love of God. He spared not Himself from the suffering and agony and sacrifice necessary to save them, but in love of them bore it for them, to rescue them from the stupor and death of sin, and lift them to a share in His life. He who sees Jesus in Bethlehem as a babe, in Galilee as a working healer and wise teacher, in Gethsemane and on Calvary as the Just One dying for the unjust, sees the Father, and knows and understands a little of the way in which He mediates the redemption of a lost world.
1. Let us seek, first of all, to get rid of misconceptions in this vital matter.
(1) One of the most prevalent notions of God is this: that God is a hard, inexorable Being, who has been made mild and forgiving only by the death of Jesus Christ. This great Gospel text teaches just the contrary. It represents God as in love with men already before Christ came—with all men—with every man. “God so loved the world.” And this is not any elect or select portion of the world, but the whole world of human beings that ever have lived, that live now or that ever will live on the face of the earth: not the world of the elect, but the world of sinners.
How can you appease love? How can a loving God propitiate Himself? Read this text with this thought of a propitiation of God injected into it, and see how it sounds. “God so loved the world that he gave his beloved Son to abate his own wrath and to placate himself!” Or, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that he might stop hating it.” This is simply suicide by self-contradiction! What folly to talk of bribing to mercy One who is bent by every instinct and prompting of His heart to the exhibition of mercy! Will you bribe a mother to love her child?1 [Note: H. Johnson, From Love to Praise, 5.]
(2) But there is another false notion of God quite as prevalent in our day as the one just named, and probably quite as mischievous. It arises from the swing of the human heart to the opposite extreme of thought. God is conceived of as a Being whose love is so vast and sweeping as to make punishment at last impossible. Instead of being thought of now as a stern judge who will by no means clear the guilty, He is thought of as a Father too loving to punish, and so full of mercy that it will not be in His heart to deal with men according to any rigid standard of justice. But this notion is as false and unscriptural as the other, and to this notion as well as to the other the great Gospel text we have before us stands opposed. In the bosom of this heavenly message we not only find the beat of an infinite heart, but the imperial majesty of a holy will.
There is no more warrant for the dear God of sentimentalism than for the hard malignant God of railing unbelief, and there is no warrant whatever for either. Let us carefully read the text again. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish.” Whosoever believes. But suppose men do not believe and will not believe. Do you not see the inevitable, irresistible next step? If men still will not believe, then they still will perish. God’s love does not save everybody, although it goes out to everybody. Some men will not take its great gift. And if the sacrifice is rejected, how can it help the sinner it is made for?
God is all Love, and nothing but Love and Goodness can come from Him. He is as far from Anger in Himself, as from Pain and Darkness. But when the fallen Soul of Man had awakened in itself a wrathful, self-tormenting Fire, which could never be put out by itself, which could never be relieved by the natural Power of any Creature whatsoever, then the Son of God, by a Love greater than that which created the World, became Man, and gave His own Blood and Life into the fallen Soul, that it might, through His Life in it, be raised, quickened, and born again into its first state of inward Peace and Delight, Glory and Perfection, never to be lost any more.1 [Note: William Law.]
2. “God so loved the world that he gave.” This is always and everywhere the sign and token of love, this generous need to give itself forth. Love is prodigal—a reaching out, an overflowing beyond the borders and boundaries of self; an imperious desire to make some sacrifice, to do something for the sake of the beloved. Wherever you meet this passion of affection, you will meet that same splendid impetus of self-giving. The one great passion of a poet like W. E. Henley is a love of his country—not always wise but always genuine—and it bursts forth into those exultant lines—
What have I done for you,
England, my England?
What is there I would not do,
England, my own?
The story is told by Luther that when his translation of the Bible was being printed in Germany, pieces of the printer’s work were allowed to fall carelessly upon the floor of his shop. One day the printer’s little daughter coming in picked up a piece of paper on which she found just the words, “God so loved the world that he gave”—the rest of the sentence not having yet been printed. It was a veritable revelation to her, for up to that time she had always been told that the Almighty was to be dreaded, and could be approached only through penance. The new light thrown upon God’s nature by the scrap that had fallen into her hands seemed to flood her whole being with its radiance, so that her mother asked her the reason of her joyfulness. Putting her hand in her pocket, Luther tells us, the girl handed, out the little crumpled piece of paper with the unfinished sentence. Her mother read it, and was perplexed: “He gave—what was it He gave?” For a moment the child was puzzled, but only for a moment; then, with a quick intuition, “I don’t know; but if He loved us well enough to give us anything, we need not be afraid of Him.” Truly there are things hidden from the wise and prudent that are revealed to babes. How impossible is Spinoza’s demand that although God is not so much as interested in us, we ought to feel towards Him an overmastering love of the mind! And how absolutely true, on the other hand, is the insight which declares, “We love him because he first loved us!”1 [Note: J. Warschauer]
In the next verse, where the same subject is dealt with, a different expression is employed. There we read, “God sent his Son.” But here, where the matter in hand is the love of God, sent is far too cold a word, and gave is used as congruous with loved. It must needs be that the Divine love manifest itself even as the human does by an infinite delight in bestowing. The very property and life of love, as we know it even in its tainted and semi-selfish forms as it prevails amongst us, is to give, and the life of the Divine love is the same. He loves, and therefore He gives. His love is a longing to bestow Himself, and the proof and sign that He loves is that “He gave his only begotten Son.”2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
3. “He gave his only begotten Son.” We cannot reach the bottom of this saying. The shallow sounding lines of men that are cast into that deep water do not touch the bottom, though some imagine that they do. What does it mean?—“His only begotten Son.” There are some that would seek to minimize the force of that wonderful designation “only begotten.” They tell us that it does not always signify soleness, or even uniqueness; and they point us to the fact that Isaac is called Abraham’s only begotten son although Ishmael was equally his child. But such an argument is not good enough even to be called sophistical. It has no point and no relevancy. “Only begotten” must of necessity mean both uniqueness and soleness. Isaac was Abraham’s only begotten son from the standpoint from which the term was applied. He was so with reference to the promise and the seed of Abraham. He was the promised only begotten son of the sacred line, and that of course is the meaning which no sophistry, no amount of quibbling, can ever get rid of. As applied to Christ it means a relation to God, which is not, and can not, be shared by any other man or by any other creature in the whole universe of God.
The true test, as it seems to me, between a view of Christ’s nature which can be regarded as a legitimate development of historical Christianity and one which can only be looked upon as a new and different creed, is this, “Does it admit the Divine Sonship of Christ in some unique, some solitary sense, or does it make Christ merely one of many sons of God?”1 [Note: H. Rashdall, Doctrine and Development, 79.]
It is hardly denied that Browning’s whole being was penetrated with this idea of Christ as the supreme revealer, the one paramount representative of God to man. And yet we have been told by his biographer that, though he uses the language of Christian Theology, his declarations cannot of course be understood in the sense of orthodox Christianity. Why “of course”? If we tried to get to the bottom of the old phrases in which orthodox Christianity has become stereotyped, we should find perhaps sometimes that the burning words of a nineteenth-century poet are after all only the present-day equivalent of the thoughts and words of a St. John in the first century, and of an Athanasius in the fourth. If there be any truth in the way in which I have attempted to explain this tremendous phrase, “the only begotten Son of God,” the thought which they contain is one of which Robert Browning’s poetry is simply full.2 [Note: Ibid. 81.]
Why have we only one Christ? We have had many philosophers, and neither to Socrates, nor Plato, nor Aristotle among the ancients; neither to Bacon, nor Descartes, nor Spinoza, nor Kant, nor Schelling, nor Hegel among the moderns, could the palm of solitary, indisputable superiority be given. We have had many poets, and neither to Homer, nor Dante, nor Shakespeare, nor Milton, nor Goethe could the praise of unique and unapproachable excellence be awarded. We have had many soldiers, and neither to Alexander, nor Hannibal, nor Cæsar, nor Charlemagne, nor to any of the mediaeval and modern commanders could absolutely unequalled military genius be attributed. And so in every other department of human thought and action. No man is entirely unique. Every man has many compeers; Christ, and Christ alone, and that in the highest department, the religious, is unique, solitary, incomparable; and our question is, Why? Why has the Creator of men created only one Christ, while He has created myriads of all other kinds of men? That Creator is infinitely benevolent; He loves His creatures, He seeks their highest well-being. That well-being Christ has promoted not only more than any other man, but more than all other men that have ever lived. If one Christ has been so mighty for good, what would a multitude have accomplished? Yet God has given to our poor humanity only one, and if we persist in asking, Why? can we find a fitter answer than the answer that stands written in the history of the Word made flesh? God in giving one gave His all: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”1 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn, The City of God, 251.]
This has always been the Christian religion. There has never been any other Christian religion except this—never. St. Paul believed this. This was his religion. “God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law.” “God sent forth his Son.” How can you reconcile that with Jesus Christ being only a very good man? “Declared to be the Son of God with power.” Does that sound like a very good man? “Through whom are all things.” Is that the sort of thing you would say about a man? “Who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.” When was He ever rich as man? Never. From those four undisputed Epistles of St. Paul—the two to the Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians—it can be proved to demonstration that St. Paul believed that the Incarnation was the centre of the Christian religion. Take St. Peter and read what he says about “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls,” to see what he believed. Take St. John. This is St. John: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Take the old Christian liturgies—take a hymn like the Gloria in Excelsis, which has come down to us from the beginning, and you find the same thing: “Thou art the Everlasting Son.” Take the Nicene Creed, which the early Church fought about with those who did not believe, and its final shape states that the Son was of the very substance with the Father, the same, identically the same substance with the Father.2 [Note: Bishop Winnington Ingram, The Love of the Trinity, 117.]
One of the most notable events of my freshman’s term was the death of the Rev. Charles Simeon. He was persuaded, though much advanced in years and diffident concerning his own physical strength, to accept the office of Select Preacher for the month of November. He had prepared his four sermons; but when November came, he was lying on a sick-bed; and when St. Mary’s bell tolled for him, it announced, not his sermons, but his death. I heard those four sermons delivered by Mr. Simeon’s successor in his own pulpit. So far as I can remember, the first three were introductory to the fourth, and the fourth gathered up the whole course and showed how type and shadow and prophecy and all the preparatory portion of God’s dispensation found their fulfilment and explanation in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether my recollection of those particular sermons be correct or not, certain it is that the supreme position of Christ, as the Alpha and Omega of the revelation of God, as “the way, the truth, and the life,” as the true link between earth and heaven, as the one sufficient sacrifice for sin, “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” as the one foundation of human hope laid by the love of God Himself—certain it is, I say, that this supreme position of Christ was the point to which all Mr. Simeon’s teaching turned, the basis upon which his ministry was built. What was the difference between that teaching and the teaching which it strove to supersede? It professed no new discovery, it did not consciously embody any doctrine which was not already embodied in the Book of Common Prayer. The difference would seem to be expressible by the phrase, the preaching of a living Christ. The teaching purported to reproduce the words of the text, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” and to reassert the words of St. Paul, “we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
A criticism of a similar kind may be made upon the teaching of a still more remarkable man, to some extent contemporary with Mr. Simeon; I mean John Wesley. What was the secret of the marvellous power of John Wesley’s preaching? It owed much, I have no doubt, to his great natural endowments; much to his zeal and the strength of his convictions; but I believe that the ultimate analysis of the subject would show that, fundamentally, the secret of his power was his own clear hold upon, and his living exposition of, the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Son of God. I say the living exposition because this is just what is necessary to infuse life into the souls of others. Vivum ex vivo, say the physiologists: vivum ex vivo, ought to echo the theologians; and a man who has a living apprehension of the love of God, as manifested to mankind in the mission of Him who is called “the only begotten Son,” possesses in that apprehension a spiritual power, which it is more easy to regard with wonder than to measure or to restrain. The preaching of John Wesley can scarcely be reproduced; but the hymns composed by him and by his brother, who in this respect was even more remarkable than himself, will go far towards substantiating what I have now been saying.
Nor is it to be believed that the great movement of the Church of England which has taken place in the last half-century would have been the real and living thing which it has proved to be, if it had not rested upon Christ as the Incarnate Son of God. A superficial criticism may identify this movement with questions of forms, of vestments, of architecture, of chanting the Church’s offices; or, perhaps, with higher questions, such as the power of the Priesthood, the grace of the Sacraments, and other doctrines or practices, which, more or less, divide opinion. And, doubtless, it is true that as the movement described as the Evangelical was a reaction from the preceding condition of the Church, and contained a reassertion of doctrines which had been allowed to fall too much into abeyance, so the next great movement gained strength from the fact that in the fervour of the evangelical effort the symmetry of Catholic teaching had been to some extent lost sight of and injured. But allowing for all this, it may still be maintained that the real foundation of what is sometimes called the Catholic movement, equally with the Evangelical, was Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. Who can doubt this who has studied and loved Keble’s “Christian Year”? Foolish things may have been said, foolish things may have been done; but these foolish things have not helped the movement; they have tended to mar and hinder it. The wisest and best teachers, whether they be called High Church or Low Church, Catholic or Evangelical, so far as their teaching is wise, earnest, and true, can adopt the words of him who hated divisions, and simply styled himself “the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ,” when he wrote to one of the Churches, “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
The same thing may be said if we go back to the greatest movement of all which can be found in our English Church history, namely, the Reformation of the sixteenth century. A variety of causes, as we all know, conspired at that time to bring about a great religious change; a variety of smaller causes conspired to determine the precise form which the change should assume in this country: general dissatisfaction with the then condition of things, long-standing jealousy of the Pope of Rome, the increase of learning, the translation of the Scriptures, the growth of the seed which John Wyclif had sown, combined with political and local causes to overthrow the Church as it then was. The traces of destruction are clear enough; but what were the forces of conservation and growth? Surely these were to be found in the fact that the wisest and best amongst the Reformers held fast to the doctrine of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Truly the Church needed a strong foundation in those terrible days; the storms raged and the winds beat upon the house; and it fell not, because it was founded upon a rock, and “that rock was Christ.” In this supreme crisis of the Church’s history she needed no new doctrine, no new faith, no new machinery, but only a clearing away of all that tended to obscure the visage of her Lord and towards substituting the legends and inventions of man for the faith once delivered to the saints.
And if I wished for another illustration of the point which I am now pressing, I would seek it in a very different quarter, namely, in that wonderful book known by the title De Imitatione Christi. The title, as we know, is taken from one particular portion of the volume; but did you ever observe what an absolute misnomer it is as applied to the whole? To speak of imitating another implies that imitation is possible; a child imitates its father or its mother, or a man sees his neighbour do a charitable act and he follows his example, or the pupil imitates his tutor, hoping to become like him; and so when you read the history of Christ being kind and gentle, holy and devout and good; when you read of His being constant in prayer, or of His indignation against hypocrisy, and His compassion for the ignorant and fallen, or when you are told that when He was reviled He reviled not again, when He suffered He threatened not, and so forth throughout the whole human side of His history, you feel not only that you can try at least to follow His example, but that you ought and would like to do it; and if this were all, still more if Jesus Christ were such as Renan and others would represent Him to have been, you feel that there is at least nothing impossible in an imitation of Christ; but the Christ of Thomas à Kempis is very different from our modern pictures of Jesus of Nazareth; it is not only Christ the man, to be followed as an example, as all good men should be, but Christ the Son of God, who in the plenitude of His love and condescension holds converse with the human soul. And because this is so, the title of the book may be called a misnomer; but also because this is so, therefore the book has its marvellous and unequalled power of influence and magical fascination; it is the record of the possible communion of the soul with God through Christ, which is unspeakably precious, just because Christ is infinitely higher than humanity, and is worthy of worship, but incapable of imitation.1 [Note: Bishop Harvey Goodwin, in The Cambridge Review, Nov. 24, 1886.]
4. Must we not say more and go further than this? Must we not say that in giving us Jesus Christ, God gave us Himself, just so far as we could receive this culminating gift? Is it not the fact that in Him we have the Way to God, the Truth about God, and the Life of God lived out among men? Is it not He who has made God real for us, by interpreting Godhead in terms of Fatherhood, so that henceforth we know God and have seen Him? He brings men to God as Teacher and Leader; but, even more wonderful, He brings God to men by visibly manifesting the Divine within Himself. In the face of so great a proof we can no longer doubt the love which prompted it. Men had thought of the Eternal as of some mighty Potentate, irresponsible in power, jealous of His own dignity, exacting obedience and praise and sacrifices; but in Christ they saw God willing to seek and to save, ready even, incredible though it might seem, to suffer and agonize for their sakes, loving men even in their disobedience and wilfulness, and giving Himself for them. “God so loved the world that he gave” Himself to us in His own dear Son.
Men readily concede that God gave us Jesus, but they do not seem to see with equal clearness that God gave Himself in Jesus, and that He still continues to give Himself in everything worthy of Jesus that is making the world better, nobler, kinder. I remember reading during the South African war that the greatest deaths were those of the mothers who died in their sons, the greatest gifts were those of the mothers who gave their sons, the keenest anguish was that of the mothers who suffered in their sons for the sake of England. Here is a figure of the word of God for the world.1 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]
(1) Here we come upon the doctrine of the Atonement, properly so called; that is, we are led to the recognition of the truth that the spiritual condition of the race of man has been changed, as the result of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Persons may of course easily misrepresent this doctrine, and say that it is derogatory to the character of the Almighty that He should require a human sacrifice to appease His wrath; that God is love and cannot be propitiated by the sufferings of the innocent; and that it is impossible for a man of honourable feeling to wish for a boon so obtained. But who preaches such doctrines as those which are thus reprobated? who does not maintain the doctrine of the text as the only ground of that of the Atonement, namely, that God so loved the world, that He even stooped Himself to save it?
“What is the blood of Christ?” asked Livingstone of his own solitary soul in the last months of his African wanderings. “It is Himself. It is the inherent and everlasting mercy of God made apparent to human eyes and ears. The everlasting love was disclosed by our Lord’s life and death. It showed that God forgives because He loves to forgive.”1 [Note: J. Clifford, The Secret of Jesus, 101.]
(2) Not only is the gift of the only begotten Son the gift of God Himself, it is also the gift of God Himself in sacrifice. In giving Jesus to us God made a real sacrifice and really impoverished Himself to give it. If God had not truly loved us, or if He had loved us only in a measure, would He not have kept His Son in blessed fellowship, living in His love and finding in it His highest joy and the satisfaction of all His needs? But no; the love which God had was the love which stopped short at no sacrifice, and therefore He gave to us His only begotten Son.
When we are asked, as we have been asked in Robert Elsmere, and in much literature that has preceded and followed it, why we do not get rid of the sternness and awfulness of religion and rest content simply with preaching the Fatherhood of God, our answer is plain. The one proof of God’s love that will ever convince the world is the Cross of Christ. Said the great German, “If I were God, the sorrows of the world would break my heart.” He knew not what he said. The sorrows of the world did break the Heart of hearts. Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, even unto blood, even unto broken-heartedness. Why do you not say that God is Father and that all is to be well, and leave Christ out? Why do you not read the text, “God so loved the world, that he gave to every one everlasting life”? If any one proclaims that God is love, upon what facts is he to rest his arguments? Does he find the love of God in the mass of misery and vice in which the world around is weltering? Belief in the love of God has been maintained and propagated in the shadow of the Cross, and only there. Apart from that, where is the proof that God is a Father and not merely a force? In the Old Testament they did not know it, though there are passages that dimly shadow it. Christ came in time. The heart of the world was failing. Martyr after martyr, prophet after prophet had died without a token. He came to change the Cross into a throne, and the shroud into a robe, and death into a sleep, and defeat into everlasting triumph.2 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, 251.]
I preach to-day the sacrifice of God.
Ride on, ride on, in majesty,
In lowly pomp ride on to die,
Bow Thy meek head in mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy power and reign.
That is the old theology, that is the faith which has converted the world, that is the faith of the martyrs, that is the faith of the writers of the New Testament, that is the faith of the missionaries who brought Christianity to what was then barbarous Britain, and I for one say, “Thank God, that is my faith to-day.”1 [Note: Bishop Winnington Ingram, The Call of the Father, 199.]
If God had done nothing, and I was asked to go and see a sister dying of cancer before my eyes, or to spend the night in the Cancer Hospital—I was once up all night there with a man dying with cancer, until five o’clock in the morning—do you suppose I could easily love God? I could not, because I could not feel that He had done anything or suffered anything. When some man says to me, “Come, let us fight this difficult battle together; I will bear the worst with you; I will go and suffer with you, fight with you, bear the unpopularity with you, and all that is brought against you; I will fight side by side with you”—I honour that man, and I would go and follow him, stand by him, and I should feel that he had done something to show his sympathy. And when God, as I believe, comes down among all the cancer and the consumption and the misery, and says, “I will come and bear it with you; I cannot explain to you now why it has to be borne, but I will bear the worst with you; I suffered more than I ask you to suffer,” I can understand that; and when I am dying, or when I am with some one dying, it is everything to know that God knows of the suffering and death, and has borne it Himself. And, therefore, I say without the Incarnation I could not answer one of these questions that are put to me about the pain and misery and sickness we have in the world.2 [Note: Bishop Winnington Ingram, The Love of the Trinity, 113.]
(3) By looking thus upon the sacrifice of our blessed Lord, and the great law of vicarious suffering of which that was the highest manifestation, we gain a new sense of the love of God thus suffering for us; and it is thus that, if we would rise with Christ and share His Kingdom, we must also suffer and die with Him. At some time or other we all pray that we may sit down with Him when He comes into the inheritance of His glory, but to all of us He returns the same answer: “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And no doubt we can, if we are filled with His love and have learned to lean upon His Cross; but suffering will have no beauty in it unless it be sanctified by love, as indeed it has no virtue in it unless we bear it for a good end and from the constraining force of love. And thus we arrive at the true idea of our own life, which is that we should aim, not at freedom from suffering, but at elevation of character and a spirit of unselfish devotion.
Norman Macleod in his Highland Parish tells a wonderful story of love’s redemptive sacrifice. Years ago a Highland widow, unable to pay her rent, was threatened with eviction. She set out, with her only child, to walk ten miles over the mountains to the home of a relative. When she started the weather was warm and bright, for the month was May, but before she reached the home of her friend a terrible snowstorm fell upon the hills. She did not reach her destination, and next day a dozen strong men started to search for her. At the summit of the pass where the storm had been the fiercest they found her in the snow, stripped almost to nakedness, dead. In a sheltering nook they found the child, safe and well, wrapped in the garments the mother had taken from her own body. Years afterwards the son of the minister who had conducted the mother’s funeral went to Glasgow to preach a preparatory sermon. The night was stormy and the audience small. The snow and the storm recalled to his mind the story he had often heard his father tell, and, abandoning his prepared sermon, he told the story of a mother’s love. Some days after he was hastily summoned to the bed of a dying man. The man was a stranger to him, but seizing the minister’s hand he said, “You do not know me, but I know you, and knew your father before you. Although I have lived in Glasgow many years, I have never attended a church. The other day I happened to pass your door as the snow came down. I heard the singing and slipped into a back seat. There I heard the story of the widow and her son.” The man’s voice choked and he cried, “I am that son. Never did I forget my mother’s love, but I never saw the love of God in giving Himself for me until now. It was God made you tell that story. My mother did not die in vain. Her prayer is answered.”1 [Note: The Expository Times, xx. 301.]
The World and Christ
“Whosoever believeth on him.”
The purpose of God in the gift to the world of His only begotten Son is that whosoever believeth on Him may not perish but have eternal life. For He wills that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, one Mediator also between God and man, Himself God, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all. Personal trust in Jesus as the infallible Revealer of what God thinks and feels about us, and what He will do for the worst of us at our worst, kills the despair and self-torture born of sin, whilst it makes sin appear exceedingly sinful, lifts us into fellowship with the Divine, with right and purity and goodness and service, and compels us to feel that the God who suffers so inconceivably and mysteriously for us as He did will surely supply all our needs and make us sharers of His joy for ever. It is a new and renewing thought of God. The faith on Christ is love, the love is faith. Each works by the other, and both work on and towards righteousness, for Christ and righteousness are one; and to trust and love Him is to trust eternal right and love it and work for it; and so the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth on Jesus. The secret of Jesus is laid bare.
The other day, when I was in Northumberland, some one asked me in public, with evident sincerity, if it did not make a difference whether he accepted Christ or not; and when we had arrived at a mutual agreement as to what we meant by “accepting Christ,” we agreed about the question itself, namely, that it made all the difference whether a man accepted or rejected Him. To accept Him means to believe that truth and right are worth witnessing and, if need be, suffering for, in daily life, in the home, and the shop, and the office, and the factory; that to give is more blessed than to receive; it means a firm belief in the victory of goodness, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding; it means the acknowledgment of the kingship of love. How far are we one and all from that consummation! Yet not so far but that we desire it, and in our best moments strive after it.1 [Note: J. Warschauer.]
1. St. John has in mind something more than merely intellectual assent.
(1) Believing does not, for example, mean here holding all that is taught in the Bible about Creation, about Adam and Eve, or about the Fall. Nor does believing here mean accepting all that is said about Christ in the Bible. A man might believe everything in the Bible and yet not believe on Christ in St. John’s sense at all; while, on the other hand, he might believe on Christ in St. John’s sense, and yet not believe other things in the Bible.
(2) Again, believing does not mean here the kind of belief implied in the acceptance or the recitation of a Creed. Many solemnly and sincerely recite a Creed, and bow at the Name of Jesus, who yet never believed on Jesus in St. John’s sense; while, on the other hand, a man may believe on Jesus, in St. John’s sense, and have Eternal Life, and yet conscientiously hesitate to recite a Creed, feeling that he could not honestly accept some of the points that are mentioned in it.
(3) Believing does not mean here simply holding a certain doctrine or theory of the Atonement. There have always been multitudes of people who have held the correct, orthodox view of the Atonement—or the view which in their time was generally held to be orthodox—have held it absolutely and passionately, and yet, in St. John’s sense, have never believed on Jesus, and never had Eternal Life; while there have been people who believed on Him in St. John’s sense, and had Eternal Life, but who never attempted to formulate any theory of the Sacrifice which was offered by Jesus once for all.
2. St. John includes an undoubtedly intellectual element, when he speaks of “belief,” as even this passage shows. His whole object in writing is to prove from the reminiscences of the life of the Lord that Jesus was the Word made flesh, that He was the only begotten Son of God, and that, though Son of Man, He was Divine. There is that intellectual element in St. John’s idea of believing. But the distinctive meaning of “believe” in St. John’s writings is not that intellectual element. That intellectual element underlies his thought, but it is not that which he is urging. In order to see what he means by using the word “belief,” we should look at what results from the believing. According to him, “belief” gives life. But what gives life is nothing but vital fellowship with God, and therefore by “believing” he means something which produces a vital fellowship with God. What is it that produces vital fellowship with God?
(1) It is the act of personal trust in Jesus as a living Person, in Jesus as the personal Manifestation of God the Father to the soul of Man. It is not believing this or that about Him—the intellectual side of Faith; it is casting ourselves upon Him, the Unseen, as a Reality, as the Reality, as the Reality of God.
Never shall I forget how in my early years I was distressed as to the meaning of the word “believe” as used in Scripture. It seemed to me to have a mysterious significance, associated with experiences that no ordinary youth could possibly have. I felt that if I myself should ever believe on Jesus Christ it must be through some strange in working whereby I should be lifted into special ecstasies, and given special visions. But one day I came upon the statement that the word “believe” is made up of two old words “by” and “live,” that to believe on a person is to “by-live” or “live-by” that person, that if I believe in Washington I live by the spirit that animated Washington, and that if I believe in Jesus Christ I live by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Whether or not this statement concerning the origin of the word stands the test of linguistic criticism is of minor significance; the fact remains, and ever will remain, whatever linguistic criticism may say, that any man who lives by another believes in that other. And when I realized this fact and I simply started out to do what I thought Jesus Christ would have me do in my place and in my time, I am sure that I began to answer to God’s desire, and that then in those earliest moments, whether I lived or whether I died, I was in God’s sight a believer.1 [Note: J. G. K. McClure, Supreme Things, 23.]
(2) To trust Christ is not merely to believe with the intellect the truth about Him, but to commit our hearts to His keeping. What all that is going to mean we cannot know at first, but there is in the life of every Christian one moment, which may or may not be remembered, when the turn is taken. In the life of every one who has really tried to make a high use of the years, there is always a point where the road ceases to descend and begins to climb upward. What has happened? Perhaps some fervent and rousing word has been carried home by the Holy Spirit. There has been a bereavement—perhaps some one has died who is so cruelly missed that the rest of life seems dark and cold as the later hours of a winter day. There has been a disappointment, perhaps, in something on which the heart has been fixed, and for consolation it has turned to the Refuge and the Lover of souls. To one who sat dreaming in her garden, repeating the old enigmas, “Was He? Was He not? If He was not, from whence came I? If He is, what am I, and what am I doing with my life?” a voice seemed to speak. The voice spoke and said, “Act as if I were, and thou shalt know I Am!” She obeyed, and soon He revealed Himself. In this way and that is the story told, is the experience passed through; but in essence it is always the same. It is a committal for time and for eternity, for life and for death, to the Lord of all worlds. Then is the channel opened between the poor, narrow, needy life and the great lake of love. Then the Divine Lover has His way with the soul.
You believe God; that is good. You believe the Gospel; that is good too. Believe all that; but that is not the point. It is not believing the Bible, it is not even believing God, it is not believing the Gospel that gives the Everlasting Life that is spoken of. It is the definite act of self-committal to Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, as the Manifestation of the saving Power and Love of God to you. It is that definite committal of yourself—an act of the soul—a going out, a reaching forth, a casting of yourself on Him. It is that act of faith, that believing in Him, that gives the fellowship with God which is Eternal Life.1 [Note: R. F. Horton, The Triumph of the Cross, 14.]
I sometimes wish we had never heard that word “faith.” For as soon as we begin to talk about “faith,” people begin to think that we are away up in some theological region far above everyday life. Suppose we try to bring it down a little nearer to our businesses and bosoms, and instead of using a word that is kept sacred for employment in religious matters, and saying “faith,” we say “trust.” That is what you give to your wives and husbands, is it not? And that is exactly what you have to give to Jesus Christ, simply to lay hold of Him as a man lays hold of the heart that loves him, and leans his whole weight upon it. Lean hard on Him, hang on Him, or, to take the other metaphor that is one of the Old Testament words for trust, “flee for refuge” to Him. Fancy a man with the avenger of blood at his back, and the point of the pursuer’s spear almost pricking his spine—don’t you think he would make for the City of Refuge with some speed? That is what you have to do. He that believeth, and by trust lays hold of the Hand that holds him up, will never fall; and he that does not lay hold of that Hand will never stand, to say nothing of rising. And so by these two links God’s love of the world is connected with the salvation of the world.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
3. “Whosoever.”—Take together the two words “world” and “whosoever.” It need not be said that those are both universal terms. “World” is the most universal term that we have in the language. For instance, we sometimes mean by it the whole earth on which we dwell; sometimes the whole human family that dwells on the earth; and sometimes the world-age, or whole period during winch the whole family of man occupies the sphere. That is the word that God uses to indicate the objects of His love. But there is always danger of our losing sight of ourselves in a multitude of people. In the great mass individuals are lost, and it becomes to us simply a countless throng. But when God looks at us, He never forgets each individual. Every one of us stands out just as plainly before the Lord as though we were the only man, woman, or child on earth. So God adds here another word, “whosoever,” which is also universal, but with this difference between the two: “world” is collectively universal, that is, it takes all men in the mass; “whosoever” is distributively universal, that is, it takes every one out of the mass, and holds him up separately before the Lord. If this precious text only said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” one might say, “Oh, he never thought of me. He had a kind of general love to the whole world, but he never thought of me.” But when God uses that all-embracing word “whosoever,” that must mean me; for whatever my name may be, it is “whosoever.”
“Thank God,” said Richard Baxter, “for that ‘whosoever.’ Had it been—‘Let Richard Baxter take,’ I might have doubted if I were meant; but that ‘whosoever will’ includes me, though the worst of all Richard Baxters.”
In the South Seas, in the beginning of last century, was a man of the name of Hunt, who had gone to preach the Gospel to the inhabitants of Tahiti The missionaries had laboured there for about fourteen or fifteen years, but had not, as yet, a single convert. Desolating wars were then spreading across the island of Tahiti and the neighbouring islands. The most awful idolatry, sensuality, ignorance, and brutality, with everything else that was horrible, prevailed; and the Word of God seemed to have made no impression upon those awfully degraded islanders. A translation of the Gospel according to St. John had just been completed, and Mr. Hunt, before it was printed, read, from the manuscript translation, the third chapter; and, as he read on, he reached this sixteenth verse, and, in the Tahitian language, gave those poor idolaters this compact little gospel: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.” A chief stepped out from the rest (Pomare II.), and said, “Would you read that again, Mr. Hunt?” Mr. Hunt read it again. “Would you read that once more?” and he read it once more. “Ah!” said the man, “that may be true of you white folks, but it is not true of us down here in these islands. The gods have no such love as that for us.” Mr. Hunt stopped in his reading, and he took that one word “whosoever,” and by it showed that poor chief that God’s gospel message meant him; that it could not mean one man or woman any more than another. Mr. Hunt was expounding this wonderful truth, when Pomare II. said, “Well, then, if that is the case, your book shall be my book, and your God shall be my God, and your people shall be my people, and your heaven shall be my home. We, down on the island of Tahiti, never heard of any God that loved us and loved everybody in that way.” And that first convert is now the leader of a host, numbering nearly a million, in the South Seas.1 [Note: A. T. Pierson.]
Bengel, the accomplished expositor of Scripture, says, “The ground I feel under me is this: that by the power of the Holy Ghost I confide in Jesus as an everlasting High Priest, in whom I have all and abound.” Archbishop Whately said, “Talk to me no more of intellect; there is nothing for me now but Christ.” Bunsen said, “I see Christ, and I see, through Christ, God.” That brilliant preacher, Dr. McCall, of Manchester, said,” I am no fanatic; rather I have been too much of a speculatist; and I wish to say this—which I hope you will all forgive me for uttering in your presence—I am a great sinner, I have been a great sinner; but my trust is in Jesus Christ and what He has done and suffered for sinners. Upon this, as the foundation of my hope, I can confidently rely now that I am sinking into eternity.”2 [Note: J. Clifford, The Secret of Jesus, 96.]
The World and God
“Should not perish, but have eternal life.”
1. Perishing.—Pardon is not wrung from the Father by the Son. It is from the Father’s love that salvation flows. But this love of God to our sinful world does not form a contradiction to that wrath which suspends judgment over it. It is not in reality the love of communion with which God embraces the pardoned sinner; it is a love of compassion like that which is felt for the unhappy or for enemies, a love the intensity of which arises from the very greatness of the punishment which awaits the obdurate sinner. Thus the two ideas which form the beginning and end of the verse—Divine love and threatening perdition—are closely joined together.
(1) Perishing in its more obvious and terrible forms we have all seen. We have seen bright young lives clouded, over-darkened, devastated, destroyed. But there is such a thing as perishing respectably, and that is far more common. A man may succeed in life, and attain his low ambitions, and pass well among his fellow-townsmen, and yet when you contemplate him you know that he has perished, that his ideals are gone, that there is now no longer any communication between him and his Maker, that his soul is gone out of him. There are more who perish in silk and broadcloth than there are who perish in rags.
There is a danger, which only the mission of Jesus Christ averts, that men may perish. That is a danger which is as universal as the love of God, for it is “the world” that is in danger of perishing; and it is a danger which is as individualizing and specific as the love itself, for “the world” that “perishes” is made up of single souls. In that category you have a place, and I, and all our brethren. Whoever stands in the great class of the objects of Divine love belongs also to the class of those who are in risk of destruction. It does not become me to fling about the thunderbolts of God, or to threaten and lighten as He has the right to do; but I do believe that much of the preaching of this generation is toothless, impotent, unblessed, because men have got too falsely tender-hearted and sentimental to talk about the necessary issue of alienation from God. Be you sure of this, that in whatever form it may be realized—and that is of secondary importance—the world—and especially you that have heard the Gospel all your days—stands in peril of destruction. “To perish,” whether it mean to be reduced into non-being, or whether it mean, as I believe it means, to be so separated from the one Source of life that, conscious existence continuing, everything that made life beautiful and blessed and desirable is gone—to “perish” is the necessary end of the man who wrenches himself away from God.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Paul’s Prayers, 187.]
(2) There is a terrible significance in that short negative clause “should not perish but”—most terrible. For, regarded in the light of the rest of the text, to perish—what is to perish? It is to fall beyond the outermost sphere of God’s love, as to be saved is to be drawn into its innermost circle. To perish is to feel that the sweet attraction of all that is good, all that is lovely, has lost its hold on the soul, to feel that another horrible attraction working in a contrary direction is bearing the spirit away into the abyss of malignant sin and of eternal death. The fearful anticlimax of eternal life! The two are mutual alternatives: the absence of the one is the presence of the other. There is a strange antagonistic correspondence between the two. The punishment of the lost is not merely in proportion to sin, but seems to be in some proportion to the parallel eternity of the glory offered but refused. It is the punishment of beings to whom eternal life has been tendered but rejected, of beings who have had an option and taken their choice. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.”
One day in America, near the Falls of Niagara, Moore saw this scene:—An Indian whose boat was moored to the shore was making love to the wife of another Indian; the husband came upon them unawares; he jumped into the boat, when the other cut the cord, and in an instant it was carried into the middle of the stream, and before he could seize his paddle was already within the rapids. He exerted all his force to extricate himself from the peril, but finding that his efforts were vain, and his canoe was drawn with increasing rapidity towards the Falls, he threw away his paddle, drank off at a draught the contents of a bottle of brandy, tossed the empty bottle into the air, then quietly folded his arms, extended himself in the boat, and awaited with perfect calmness his inevitable fate. In a few moments he was whirled down the Falls and disappeared for ever.1 [Note: The Greville Memoirs, i. 254.]
The scene is terrible enough. But the perishing of a man’s body is a light thing in comparison with the perishing of his soul.
(3) The light and the darkness, the Light of Light and the blackness of darkness, salvation and perdition—between these two extremes the inhabitants of this earth occupy the middle place. We move on the neutral ground, between the armies of Heaven and the legions of Satan, in the debatable territory—this world is the region of our option and the scene of our free decision. Out of Christ there is no salvation to any man: neither in this world nor in the world to come. “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” but the great name of Jesus. Faith in Him is, as He Himself is, the gift of God, but it is the gift of the Spirit inviting, persuading our will, not compelling it. To refuse these gifts is to perish; to reject them now is to be rejected at the last day. To lose them here is to learn their value by contrast hereafter and to weep their loss for ever.
In the Royal Academy of 1908 there was a picture by the Hon. John Collier which will always attract attention. It is called “Sentenced to Death.” We are introduced into the consulting room of a great physician, and facing us is a young man who is hearing from the doctor the result of his diagnosis. The doctor is telling him that he is a doomed man, that he will presently die. The young man sits there in the chair, faultlessly dressed, handsome, with all the promise of youth in his face, and there is no special look of illness except perhaps to a doctor’s eye. He has just received his sentence of death, and has strung himself to endurance.
I thought I saw in the intention of the artist the dawning of a vision in the young man’s eyes, as if he were seeking for an inward hope, or trying to fix his thought upon a faith that he half knew. As I looked into his face how I longed, though it was only a picture, how I longed to tell him that if he believed in Jesus he had everlasting life, that he need not be afraid, he need not even be cast down. Believing in Jesus he has everlasting life. As I looked at the picture I so longed to tell him, that I turned my face away lest I should cry out in the room.2 [Note: R. F. Horton.]
2. Eternal Life.—Eternal life comes, and can come, only by a vital fellowship with the Ever-living God; and the reason why this believing in Jesus brings eternal life is that it brings us into vital fellowship with God. Through Christ, through faith in Christ and the committal of the soul to Him, we find we have come into vital contact with God. We have touched the source of Life—Eternal Life.
(1) It is called eternal life, which does not mean that it is a life in a future world; but it is called eternal life here and now, because here and now this life which means vital fellowship with God is established, and begins to run on into Eternity. A life begins here and now which continues there and then—beyond and for ever. Believing in Christ means that we have come into contact with the very Fountain of Life—God Himself, the Eternal and Ever-living God; and therefore, believing, you have eternal life. When we believe in Christ, eternal life has begun in us.
God does not help His children now and then, but now, always now. There is no “then”; it exists only in imagination. The only time we ever actually need God is now. If “then” troubles us in imagination and we wonder what will become of us then, let us learn to live with God now. Form the habit of using God and being used of God, and the imaginary and dreadful “then” will be swallowed up in the stream of now when the time comes. No clocks keep time to-morrow. Springs push and hands point now. Now is the appointed time for clocks as well as people. God never helped anyone to-morrow. He is a very present help. What is eternity but God’s now? Let us then live the eternal life with God now.1 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living, 44.]
(2) The end God has in view in such belief is our largest opportunity. He calls it eternal life. It is fulness of everything that makes man great and existence sweet. It is not mere immortality. Immortality simply gives the ennobled spirit its endless perfect province. Eternal life is realized when a man comes to his better self; when he is saved from being “frittered away in frivolities, from being consumed by the canker of avarice, from being palsied by the mildew of idleness, from being enervated by luxury, from being crippled by the paralysis of doubt.” Eternal life is rescue from perishing in selfishness, animalism, hate and pride, with all the other evils that destroy humanity. Eternal life is when a man, entering upon the path of truth and nobility, renders service to humanity, his body being obedient to every known law of health, his mind entering into fellowship with the highest thoughts of eternity, and his spirit communing with the spirits of the just and good on earth and of the just and good in heaven: when a man in his own time and place according to his own temperament reproduces in himself Jesus Christ.
We shall behold with our inward eyes the mirror of the wisdom of God, in which shall shine and be illumined all things which have ever existed and which can rejoice our hearts. And we shall hear with our outward ears the melody and the sweet songs of saints and angels, who shall praise God throughout eternity. And with our inner ears we shall hear the inborn Word of the Father; and in this Word we shall receive all knowledge and all truth. And the sublime fragrance of the Holy Spirit shall pass before us, sweeter than all balms and precious herbs that ever were; and this fragrance shall draw us out of ourselves, towards the eternal love of God, and we shall taste His everlasting goodness, sweeter than all honey, and it shall feed us, and enter into our soul and our body; and we shall be ever an hungered and athirst for it, and because of our hunger and thirst, these delights and this nourishment shall remain with us for ever, evermore renewed; and this is eternal life.1 [Note: M. Maeterlinck, Ruysbroeck and the Mystics, 76.]
3. What response are we making, or are we prepared to make, to the love of God? There was a book written not many years ago of which the title was: The Christian Life: A Response. It was a beautiful title, which put the Christian life in the true attitude—it should not be lived out of fear of hell, not lived to purchase heaven, but rather as a response to the love of God. What sort of response are we expected to make to the love of God?
(1) Gratitude.—Perhaps you are familiar with the story of the brilliant unbeliever, Harriet Martineau. She said to a friend on some glorious morning, “Doesn’t such a day make one feel grateful?” To which her friend quietly replied, “Grateful to whom, my dear?” Some of us have been tasting this summer the joys of travel in enchanting scenery, full of grandeur and manifold loveliness, and have experienced this sense of gratitude over and over again; but we have our answer to the question, “Grateful to whom?” Shall we not love Him who gave us these delights and all the satisfactions and stimulus of our lives because He loves us? How strange it seems to read of the late Professor Huxley, in the full career of joyful work, saying that at the end of every day he felt a strong desire to say, “Thank you” to some Power if he could only have known to whom to say it. It should not have been so difficult to say, “Thank you, God!”1 [Note: J. Warschauer.]
When Robert M‘Cheyne and Andrew Bonar were in the Holy Land, they went to visit the Garden of Gethsemane. Dr. Bonar thus writes: “The sun had newly risen; few people were upon the road, and the Valley of Jehoshaphat was lonely and still. We read over all the passages of Scripture relating to Gethsemane while seated together there. It seemed nothing wonderful to read of the wanderings of these three disciples, when we remembered that they were sinful men like disciples now; but the compassion, the unwavering love of Jesus appeared by the contrast to be infinitely amazing. For such souls as ours He rent this vale with His strong crying and tears, wetted this ground with His bloody sweat, and set His face like a flint to go forward and die. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ Each of us occupied part of the time alone—in private meditation—and then we joined together in prayer, putting our sins into that cup which our Master drank here, and pleading for our own souls, for our far-distant friends, and for the flocks committed to our care.”
(2) Adoration.—The shepherds were quite right when they said: “O come let us adore him!” The angels were right when they sang: “Glory to God in the highest!” So we should come to the house of God and bow the head in adoring worship if we believe at all.
What a Sunday! At 8 a.m. we were present at the Lutheran Mass, if I may so call it. The altar, the candles, the comings and goings of the pastor, the litanies sung with responses, all astonished me. However, it is a beautiful idea that pervades all that, and one which we have lost sight of in our Reformed Churches, namely, adoration. We go to the preaching (au prêche) and that is all.2 [Note: Coillard of the Zambesi, 162.]
(3) Purity.—The love of God believed in must mean a life of growing purity. If we may have the Son of God within us; if He loved us, and gave Himself for us like that; if He has come like a good shepherd over the hills to find us, and has found us, then we must live a life, in His strength, of something like correspondence to His; we must confess the sins that we have done; we must be perfectly plain about what our life has been, and how careless and unworthy it has been, if we feel it has been so. Then we must not be content with that. Having got straight with God, we must ask Him to come to our heart.
Come to my heart, Lord Jesus;
There is room in my heart for Thee.
“Look straight into the light, and you will always have the shadows behind.” Yes, but more than that, you will see more clearly how to walk. Look straight into the light, and every year you will see more things that you must do, and more clearly the things you must avoid. “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”1 [Note: Bishop Winnington Ingram, The Gospel in Action, 323.]
(4) Service.—Lastly, there is the response of service. If He came down from heaven, and so loved the world, we must find a way in which to love our fellow-men as He loved us. Christ’s doctrines find their best meaning only in service! Who shall know so well what the Atonement means as they who are striving every day to bring its light into dark places? Who shall understand the mercy of God as those who are toiling helpfully amongst poor, weak-willed men, who, crushed by the hard laws of life, can be raised only by compassion? Who shall catch so full a glimpse of the wisdom of God’s purpose as they who, ministering to the needy, the ignorant, the hungry, find how strong are the moral forces which are born, not of constraint, but of love and of free will?
God loves the world. Therefore he loves the men of every nation, of every language, of every creed. He loves the man that jostles me in the street. He loves the man that overreaches me, and deprives me of my rights, or who insults or slanders me. And if I call myself a Christian, I must love them with a deep and holy love, and must be willing even to suffer in order to give light to their darkened eyes, and soften their hard hearts with brotherly affections. Otherwise I have no real fellowship with the Father and the Son. “He that hateth his brother is a murderer, and no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”2 [Note: James Drummond, Johannine Thoughts, 40.]
Are we ready for the Master’s use? Do we really believe in the possibility of the world’s redemption? How spacious is our belief? How large is the possibility which we entertain? When we survey the clamant needs of the race, do we discover any “hopeless cases”? Where have we obtained the right to use the word “hopeless”? What evidence or experience will justify us in saying of any man, “He is too far gone”? In what atmosphere of thought and expectancy are we living? Are we dwelling in the Book of Ecclesiastes, or making our home in the Gospel of St. John? Let us ransack the city. Let us rake out, if we can find him, the worst of our race. Let us produce the sin-steeped and the lust-sodden soul, and then let us hear the word of the Master: “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” The first condition of being capable ministers of Christ is to believe in the possibility of the world’s salvation.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
I shall never forget how Professor Elmslie, in the brief delirium before death, when his mind was wandering, came back over and over again to “God is Love, God is Love; I will go out and tell this to all the world. They do not know it.”2 [Note: W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, 247.]
Teach me to love the world as thou dost love,
Ready to give my dearest and my best,
Than self more dear, to save it from its sins,
And turn all hearts to thee. Oh! grant the faith
In thy beloved Son, thy holy Lamb,
Which wakes, within, the sleeping life of love,
And makes us one with him who died that men
Might share his life eternal, and might dwell
In thee, from whose exhaustless fulness all
Who look to thee in fervent prayer receive
Thy Spirit’s bounteous gift. But from that love
Which clings in fondness to the world’s bad ways,
And sinks the soul in its corrupting guile,
Save me, O God; for earth must pass away,
Ambition’s pride, and all the idle glare
Of social rank, and wealth’s delusive charm.
That which we see is temporal, and soon
Must yield to time’s corrosive touch, and sink
To dark oblivion. But the things unseen,
Love, holiness, and truth, eternal stand
Before thy glorious throne, and speak thy word
Within the heart of man. To that blest word
Be all my powers subdued, that I may still
Show forth thy love which quickens and redeems.3 [Note: James Drummond, Johannine Thoughts, 42.]
The Amazing Gift of Love
Campbell (R. J.), New Theology Sermons, 81.
Clifford (J.), The Secret of Jesus, 85.
Curling (E.), The Transfiguration, 55.
Eadie (J.), The Divine Love, 1.
Fairbairn (A. M.), The City of God, 252.
Goodwin (H.), Hulsean Lectures for 1855, 19.
Horton (R. F.), The Triumph of the Cross, 1.
Ingram (A. F. W.), The Call of the Father, 199.
Ingram (A. F. W.), The Gospel in Action, 316.
Ingram (A. F. W.), The Love of the Trinity, 112.
Johnson (H.), From Love to Praise, 3.
Jowett (J. H.), Brooks by the Traveller’s Way, 148.
Knight (H. T.), The Cross, the Font, and the Altar, 11.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., iv. 378.
McClure (J. G. K.), Supreme Things, 13.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John i.–viii., 180.
Maclaren (A.), Paul’s Prayers, 180.
Maclean (A.), Where the Book Speaks, 200.
Millard (B. A.), Optimism and the Vision of Cod, 108.
Milligan (G.), Lamps and Pitchers, 165.
Morison (J.), Holiness in Living and Happiness in Dying, 9.
Nicoll (W. R.), The Lamp of Sacrifice, 244.
Patton (W. J.), Pardon and Assurance, 89.
Percival (J.), Some Helps for School Life, 81.
Pierson (A. T.), The Heart of the Gospel, 23.
Prothero (G.), The Armour of Light, 19.
Reid (J.), Jesus and Nicodemus, 203.
Ryle (J. C.), The Christian Race, 57.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxxi. (1885) No. 1850.
Thomas (J.), Sermons (Myrtle Street Pulpit), ii. 309.
Cambridge Review, viii. Supplement No. 187 (Harvey Goodwin).
Christian Age, xxxviii. 386 (Parkhurst).
Christian World Pulpit, xxxvii. 349, xli. 101 (Harwood); xlvi. 187 (Clifford); xlvii. 340 (Armstrong); lvi. 264 (Peake); lxv. 376 (Jowett); lxix. 49 (Ingram); lxxiv. 339 (Warschauer).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Christmas Day: ii. 259 (Rawnsley), 261 (Evans); Mission Work: xvii. 228 (Kramer).
Preacher’s Magazine, xxi, 109.