TEXT: JOHN xvi.27. "For the Father Himself loveth you, be cause ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father."
THAT was a great word of the Saviour about Himself on which we lately spoke together, in which He represented Himself as from of old the one object of desire and longing to all the best part of mankind, to those who were nearest to God and had received most teaching from Him: but this is a still greater saying, in which He sets Himself before us as the real cause of the love of God towards us, -- as He for whose sake alone, by virtue of our relation to Him, that is to say, on account of our faith in Him and love to Him, we became objects of the love of God, His and our Father. But it is He who can say of Himself what one would have been disposed to dispute in the mouth of any other, "If I bear witness of myself, yet my witness is true; for it was eternally clear to His own consciousness what He was to be to the human race to whom He had come. In all others this knowledge could only be gradually unfolded by experience; that is, by their obeying His word and actually fulfilling the will of God which He declared to them, that they should "believe on Him whom the Father had sent." Therefore, as we count ourselves among those who have learned to love Him, and have attained to the faith that He came forth from God, let us examine His word by the light of our own experience and make it clear to ourselves, if. talking over it, how the Saviour is He for whose sake, if we love Him and believe in Him, we also are loved by God.
I. In the first place, every one will no doubt say to him self in contradiction of this, that if God is love, His love must reach as far as His omnipotence, and there must be a universal love of God. And certainly we shall feel bound to admit that this special love of which the Saviour speaks in our text is only an outcome of that universal love. As surely as the highest knowledge which we have reached through the Son of God is this, that God is love, so surely must we believe that every work of God's hands is also an object of His love. Only, of course, dead things could not be objects of His love; nor could that which, though certainly alive, yet was incapable of any perception of Him, be such an object; but the spiritual eye of those who know Him soon becomes so clear as to all outward things, that they perceive that anything which we can only regard as inanimate and dead is really in itself nothing at all. That which we could imagine as having no kind of connection with that life which alone among created things is the image of God, would have no proper existence. But there is nothing that is not in some way allied to it. Everything endowed with mind, everything that can, even in a very imperfect and distant way, become conscious of God, everything that according to its nature can be reached by the beams of His love, -- all these are certainly in themselves objects of that love. And so the ancient accounts in the Old Testament of the creation of the world are closed with the words, "And God: saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good." That was the breathing of love, the look of divine delight over all His works; and it reached as far as His almighty power had done in calling into being that which was not; but still all was good only as connected with that part of this created, finite being which could be the reflection of His own being; which was capable of knowing Him and of feeling after Him in His works. And yet when we reflect that the principal subject of that old story is this earth alone, the scene of our life and work, -- that it notices only in so far as they affect this world, all the rest of God's works, which our present knowledge shows us as being so much greater and of so much wider range; when we reflect further, that in this world man is the only intelligent being; with reference to whom everything is arranged, for whom everything is made that belongs to this world, or that has any bearing on it in other worlds; -- with these things before our minds, oh, how can we understand the statement that God the Lord pronounced it all very good, when He saw not only man as the noblest work of His hands, appointed to have dominion over the earth; but just as clearly the fall of man, and all the loss to his spiritual life and work which sin would bring to this man and to the whole human race? We may surely say that if at that time God the Lord said of man and of the earth which was to be his possession, that all was good, it must have been because He had in view not only sin and the fall; but further, -- and that not merely as included in His satisfaction, but as being the essential ground of it, -- Him who was appointed to restore all things. Indeed it was only in reference to Him, -- only because human nature was capable of receiving into union with it the Word who was to become flesh, therefore only because through Him man was to be brought back to God, into a closer and more intimate relation than had been possible before, -- it was only in view of all this that God the Lord pronounced all good. And therefore already in this Word He made Himself known as the God who would have compassion on sinners, and who would overlook the times of ignorance, if only in those times He in whom God was already well pleased, should find in men the adherence, the faith, the love without which He could neither impart His thoughts to them nor bring them into perfect union with God. And thus this universal love of God is everywhere shown to man as to the creature made in His own image, in all his various conditions; this is the way in which the Scriptures throughout explain and make intelligible that love and compassion of God; that He has included all under sin and unbelief, that the promise might come through faith in Him in whom alone it would be made plain to all for what a glorious destiny God had created man. Therefore all that we are told of the special love of God and His delight in individuals concerns those who, according to His unsearchable plan, were appointed to stand in a closer earthly connection with Him who was to come. And so the nation from which the Saviour was to arise was His chosen nation; for this reason it was preserved and kept separate and again and again delivered from the distress into which it had brought itself by sin, in order that the revelation of God should be kept safe, and that from this nation should come the only-begotten Son of the Highest. And thus we must say that all mankind was from the beginning the object of the divine good-pleasure and love: nothing that was created in His likeness, nothing connected in any way with this created image of Himself, was excluded from His fatherly care; but no one was an object of God's love and solicitude in himself and for his own sake.
II. This brings us, then, to the second point to be considered; namely, what is the distinctive nature of that special love of God to us on account of our faith in Christ and love to Him? But this special and that universal love are so joined that even what the Saviour here spoke of specially to His disciples signifies nothing different from that universal love. It was not His disciples in themselves, as they had been and as they would have continued to be without Him, who were the objects of the divine love He speaks of; but only, He says, for this reason does the Father love you, because you have learned to love Me, because you have attained to the faith that I came forth from God. For as the Saviour of the world was, even from the beginning, as the only-begotten Son of God the one immediate object of divine satisfaction in this whole world of men; God chose and drew to Himself in a special manner, (as we lately saw in the case of Abraham,) only those who were connected with Christ's future; although they received, in the greatest moments of their lives, only a far-off prevision of that future, which, faint as it was, became their greatest possession and the most precious treasure of their lives. And just in the same way He chose the disciples of His Son, only because of their closer connection with Him; as indeed it was natural that their love to the Beloved of God should attract the love of God to them. How like man the Most High seems to speak in these words! And yet how directly obvious must their divine truth be to us as well as their human character! This is just what we all feel; he who loves those whom we love, becomes thereby the object of our love. And if he was already such in some degree, he becomes now the object of a different, a new and more fervent affection. It cannot be otherwise. If the Saviour was the direct object of the divine delight, how should not God have taken delight in those who recognised in that Saviour the glory of the only-begotten Son of the Father? If He was the object of the Father's delight because through Him the whole human race was to be brought to God and to glory; how should not those also have become objects of God's delight, and have been, as it were, flooded with a reflection of His glory, who not only recognised that in Him all the divine promises were actually fulfilled, and knew Him as the source from which alone flowed the words of life, but who, moreover, could not but serve Him with their whole being in the accomplishment of all the divine purposes for the salvation of the world. And how does the Saviour Himself represent to us this love of God, of which we become the objects for His sake? He said to His disciples, I will not say that when you have need of anything, when you wish to ask anything from the Father, I will pray for you to the Father; for the Father Himself loveth you, because ye love Me and believe that I have come forth from God. Now is not this the highest relation in which man can stand towards God -- that he should make requests and God grant them, that he should ask and God should answer? For each question is really a petition, and every answer is a gift. Nowhere among the human family, indeed, has this relation been regarded or expressed otherwise than just in this way. If in any place there was a sanctuary specially consecrated to higher beings or to the Highest, it was in order that prayer might thus be presented before God, and that thence might flow forth the blessings granted; that doubting spirits might there propound their questions, and receive an answer out of some mysterious depth of the divine nature. And this is the peculiarity of our relationship to Him, the Father -- that He is only called on to give us such things as the heart purified by the word of His Son desires, only to answer such questions as are connected with our love and faith, because just by reason of our love to the Saviour and our faith that He came forth from God, no other questions arise in our hearts. Oh, what grander imagination can we have of our relation to God than this? Is the highest Being the source of all happiness and of all good? Well, then, all must be good that comes from Him. And if His gifts are granted in answer to our requests, that is a sign that we ask what it was in His mind to grant us, that our souls are in harmony with the principles on which He rules and arranges the world of intelligent beings whom He has created in His likeness -- a sign that we are only desiring that which He has Himself appointed as best for us. For if we asked anything else than this, He would not grant what we asked. And the Saviour therefore regards this as the fruit of our love to Him; for how can those who love Him and believe that He came forth from God ask for anything but what belongs to the work for which He came from God and came into the world, and after it was accomplished left the world and returned to the Father? What can they ask but what belongs to the work of saving the world through Him? And if our prayers have no other object than what is suggested by our love and faith towards the Saviour, -- well, He says, I need not even say that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father Himself loveth you; that is, the thing you ask will come directly from Himself. But in fact these two ideas are essentially connected, and are the real ground of the relation which the Saviour means to establish between God and us; the fact that we have really learned to love Him as He was, in view of what He came for, what He lived for, what He laid down His life for; and further, that we have arrived at the conviction that He came forth from God, given by God to men for their salvation, to fulfil His purposes of blessing towards them. And so the Saviour says also to His disciples a little earlier, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name." For that alone is a prayer in His name, which is prompted by this faith in Him and love to Him; and it is only what is asked in His name that He promises His disciples will be granted. And therefore, He says, when I am no longer among you, you will ask in My name; for not till then will your souls be quite purified from the misconceptions which before were still mixed with your love and faith; and then you will only wish to obtain by your prayers that which from the beginning has been the real object of your doings and efforts; that is to say, only what belongs to the great work which the Father has appointed Me to accomplish. So far, then, as we no longer ask anything but what can be asked for in Christ's name, the Father loves us, so that He grants us what we ask; and such love to the Saviour is inseparably connected with the faith that He came forth from God. How otherwise could we so utterly bind ourselves to the work and will of a single man?
Yet, my friends, let us still linger a moment to look particularly at these words. How long they have given occasion to ever-renewed keen dispute and painful dissension among Christians! How have believers longed and striven to penetrate more and more deeply the mystery of this doctrine of the Saviour's proceeding from God! and how often has some particular way or another of thinking about it been the cause of utterly dividing Christians, and of rending apart their loving fellowship! If such mysterious doctrines, if any such exact definitions of the manner in which the Saviour proceeded from God were a part of the faith on which God's special love to us depends, oh, how was it possible that He who was the very brightness of that love should have been so careless of His own as not to have given them the plainest and most definite explanation of this in the most impressive way! How could He have left it, as it were, to chance, whether they should attain to this knowledge or not, if yet their share in this special love of the Father depended on it? How easily has now one, now another, been always falling on some new interpretation of the doctrine, how difficult Christians have always found it to agree on one and the same view, while yet each supported his own from Scripture! But how ruinous is this apparently so unavoidable difference of opinion, if it is not enough to believe that the Saviour came forth from God; -- if the love of God does not rest on him who holds that it is to be understood in this particular way and not in that other way. But, my friends, just because the Saviour brings our love to Him and our faith into so immediate connection, we may be sure that what only affects our belief that He came forth from God, in such a way that it has no influence on our love to Him, can just as little affect God's love to us; and we may tranquilly allow all such differences to take their course, so that this subject may always be coming up anew for Christian investigation. But that which cannot contribute to the growth of our love to the Saviour, for that very reason, does not determine God's love to us; and oh, still less let it mar our love to each other, still less let it break the bond of unity in which we show our love to the Saviour by helping forward His work. So we may let all that rest; if we are only sure of this, that to the question John sent to ask the Lord, "Art thou He that should come, or look we for another," there can be no answer but this: yes, truly, in Him all the promises of God are yea and amen; there is no other to be looked for after Him; in Him the whole fulness of divine love and grace is revealed to us, and the true life communicated to us through Him; yea, all saving truth is set before us in Him. And if we know this, that is believing that He came forth from God. For the fulfilment of the divine decrees can only proceed from God, and He must have come forth from God, who was to solve the mystery of man's so chequered and intricate and often so dark destiny; -- so to solve it that the issue of all shall be that very peace that comes from above, and that very eternal life to which all who believe in Him have made their way through death.
III. But let us propose and answer yet a third inquiry. We have seen that because we love the Saviour and believe that He came forth from God, therefore the Father loves us, and that we thus stand in a certain direct relation of love to God. Now, from the moment in which we take possession of this relationship to the Father, -- when it actually becomes our property, does not our separate relation to the Saviour become something superfluous? is it not from that time cancelled? And so would it not be most correct to say that the first and original love is still that universal love of God to everything that lives and is capable of taking knowledge of Him in His works? but because men kept back the truth in unrighteousness, because they refused to see and praise Him in His works, and so must have gone on sinking ever deeper into ruin, therefore God had resolved from eternity to send His Son, on whom their love and faith might in the first instance take hold. In this way they would be made capable of perceiving God's plan, and under standing His will; they would not only become conscious of His omnipotence, but would infer His fatherly love. But when the ruling consciousness of this relation between God and man is re-established, and they are thus brought back to the position of children of God; then the knowledge of His love calls forth answering love, and there is no longer need of any special medium through which to use and enjoy this relationship. Does the Father love us? then we no longer need any intercession, not even that of Him whom the Father sent for our salvation, as indeed this is just what Christ says! Why then should we not be able to continue in this direct relation to God, and the mediation of Christ be just as well forgotten in time, as it was out of sight before? Now here, you see, is the difference between Christians. There are those who wish only to learn from Christ, who believe that He was sent to open men's spiritual eyes anew to necessary and saving truth; but that if a man has again found his way to the truth, and is enlightened by it, that light is kindled in himself and goes on burning; and that his mind would not be at one with itself unless the power increased in him to follow the truth he knew. And thus each of us must count on his own efforts to help himself on after the truth has been given us by Christ: He must ever be held in blessed and grateful remembrance among men, and His teaching must be always the first step on which they take their stand: but now men's relation of childlike obedience to God, as well as their confidence in the blessings of His fatherly love, is a direct relation, based on their own knowledge. Very different from this is the language of those who not only wish to learn from the Saviour, and who do not merely believe that it was necessary for Him to come into the world in order, as the Light, to pierce through the darkness; but who regard Him as the Life of the world, in whom alone we have life. Such persons never believe it possible to do without the Saviour, even if they have come to the Father; even if they feel it to be true that the Father loves them because of their love and their faith, ah, they cannot depend on being able to maintain this relation, if they forsake the Saviour. Towards which of these views do the Lord's own words in general point, and more especially those which have been the subject of our present meditation? If the Father loves us for this reason, that we love the Son, would not the Father's love necessarily cease if we could ever cease to love the Son, for whose very sake He loves us, as the effect always ceases with the cessation of the cause? If the Father loves us because we believe and are confident that Christ came forth from Him, would not the Father's love necessarily cease if this faith and confidence became of less value to ourselves? But the words of the Saviour say even too plainly that this is impossible! Just as Ho was aware of the weakness of His disciples, and knew before hand that when they should be tempted, after the Shepherd was smitten, to scatter every man to his own, yet His prayer must be fulfilled, that they should continue in His truth; so by the very act of expressing this assurance, He declared that their love to Him could not cease. What kind of a love would it be that could ever lot go the beloved object? Such a love could only be a fleeting emotion, that had no spring in the calm depths of one's being. If we have really learned to love the Saviour, we cannot forsake Him; nor can we entertain the question whether, if we forsook Him, we should continue in the Father's love. We feel the truth of what He says, Because you love Me, without Me you can do nothing; our very existence is involved in the question of whether we persevere in love to Him or forsake Him. If we have once acquired the confidence that He came forth from God, must we not then feel unsafe in every step that we should take on our way to salvation, if we consciously had less desire to follow Him than to seek out some path for ourselves? No, the thing is impossible; wo love Him, and therefore we cannot cease to love Him: we believe that He came forth from God, and therefore we cannot wish to live apart from Him. And therefore we continue sure of the love of God to us, because love to the Son is never extinguished in us. And it will always remain true, that there is no way for us to see the Father but in the Son; He will ever be to us the nearest and most complete revelation of the Highest; we shall always, in our union with Him, be conscious of the fatherly love of God, and continue in it. He who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him; but this is the love that came from God, that wo love the Son whom He has sent, that we cleave in firm confidence to Him, out of whom no salvation is to be found for the human race.
And so, my friends, let us anew welcome the Saviour, through whom we are brought into fellowship of God ii fatherly love; let us acknowledge it as the greatest benefit that God could pour forth on us, that He sent Him to bring us into such a union of love with Himself; but let us noi proudly trust in ourselves, as if we could go forward in the way of life without Him. Rather let us keep faithful to that word of the disciples which has always been the watch word of all who loved and believed in Him: Lord, to whom shall we go if we leave Thee? Thou hast the words of eternal life! Amen.