God's Love the Cause of Ours
1 John 4:19
We love him, because he first loved us.

Reciprocity is the crown of love. And although it may be absent in one case or another, we cannot use the word "love," except metaphorically, in any field which does not admit of its possible reciprocation. Any injunction to love God, therefore, will sound abstract and unreal, till we remember that its cause and condition is that "He first loved us." God's condescension, not man's aspiration, is the beginning of religious life. There have been times when the sense of the Divine oppressed men, and led to superstition. But such times are not ours. The world of the present day believes, but does not tremble. It thinks, and speaks, and acts, and goes about its business as if our race were, for practical purposes, self centred and alone. Many causes have contributed to this. The psychological character of our philosophy, leading to agnosticism; our overestimate of liberty, with its attendant shadow self-assertion, to the comparative neglect of obedience, humility, reverence and awe; the splendid spectacle of our vast achievements in mechanism and science — have all tended to reinforce the natural pride of the human heart. It needs, therefore, a very real effort to bear constantly in mind the fact that we are creatures, and that our nearest relation is our Creator. If we turn, then, to the Divine share in the development of our faculties, we shall see that what we call our action may be better described as God's attraction, and that we advance in exact proportion as we let ourselves be led by Him. We are the creatures, science tells us, of our environment. Yes; but the reason why we are so is that our true environment is God. Take the instance of the will. The denial of its freedom is only a parody of the truth that it must be developed by external law. The laws of nature, the laws of society, the laws of conscience, if we obey them, slowly determine our wills towards that uniform course of conduct which constitutes our character. The character of the scientific, the civilised, the moral man is formed by successive acts of more or less difficult obedience to a particular class of laws. We do not form ourselves, we are conformed to the law; and by every step in that conformity our true freedom is enlarged. And what is this but saying that God, the Source of all law, is for ever at work, attracting our wills into harmony with His will, increasing our liberty, and expanding our capacities, in proportion as that harmony grows more complete; teaching us to see, in what once seemed relentless forces, tokens of His truthfulness, His holiness, His love. The same is the case with our minds. We study a great author, and in doing so, as the phrase goes, make his thoughts our own. But in reality it is he who throws the spell of his personality upon us, and makes our thoughts his. So with all other mental objects, the course of the stars, the laws of mathematics, chemical properties, mechanical forces — they are there, they exist before us; we do not create, we only discover them. Our intellect grows with nourishment, but the nourishment must be given from without. Knowledge, therefore, rightly viewed, is the progressive acceptance of revelation; and thence the moral qualities which we see that it involves. So, too, our power of loving is drawn into activity from without. The tenderness of our mother, our father's protecting pride, the warmhearted affections of the companions of our youth, bodily beauty, nobleness of life, sanctity of soul — all these draw the heart out of us, and teach us what it is to love. But who created them all, and endowed them with their loveliness? God, that He might draw us with the cords of a man, with bands of love. The love of God for us once realised has a constraining power that compels us to return it with all our heart, and soul, and mind. But such realisation never can be ours till our faculties are duly disciplined. Only the heart that knows what true love is can read the indications of God's love for us aright. Only the mind that is directed upward can teach the heart that heavenly knowledge. Only the will that has learned obedience can give the mind its true direction. We must will in order to know, and know in order to love, before we can consciously enter within the sphere of the Divine attraction. There remains the crowning evidence that He first loved us. He gave Himself for us. The Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is the supreme appeal to our love, because it is the supreme proof of His. And yet there are many earnest theists in the present day willing enough to trace the signs of a Divine presence in the universe, but inconsistently stopping short of a belief in the Incarnation. For it is an inconsistent stoppage on the part of any real theist, since God, who is conceived of as caring for His creatures, must be supposed to reveal Himself in ways suiting their capacity; and an Incarnation, as many a pre-Christian thinker saw, would be the reasonable culmination of such ways of self-revealing. There is evidence enough of God's love for us in the beauty of the world, the beneficence of nature, and all the joy of human intercourse. It is only when we come to the dark sad side of life that our faith begins to fail. And here the Incarnation takes up the thread of proof, not by removing the problem of the mystery of sorrow from our minds, but by revealing God Himself as willing to bear it with and for us, and so enabling our hearts to feel it the crowning testimony of His love. The soul that has reached this certitude needs no other motive to ensure its obeying the commandment, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God."

(J. R. Illingworth, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: We love him, because he first loved us.

WEB: We love him, because he first loved us.

God's Love and Ours
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