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