May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
Of what? There can, I think, be no doubt as to the answer. The next clause is evidently the continuation of the idea begun in that of our text, and it runs: "and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." It is the immeasurable measure, then; the boundless bounds and dimensions of the love of Christ which fires the apostle's thoughts here. Of course, he had no separate idea in his mind attaching to each of these measures of magnitude, but he gathered them all together simply to express the one thought of the greatness of Christ's love. Depth and height are the same dimension measured from opposite ends. The one begins at the top and goes down, the other begins at the bottom and goes up, but the surface is the same in either case. So we have the three dimensions of a solid here — breadth, length, and depth. And I suppose that I may venture to use these expressions with a somewhat different purpose from that for which the apostle employs them: and to see in each of them a separate and blessed aspect of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
I. WHAT, THEN, IS THE BREADTH OF THAT LOVE? It is as broad as humanity. As all the stars lie in the firmament, so all creatures rest in the heaven of His love. Mankind has many common characteristics. We all suffer, we all sin, we all hunger, we all aspire; and, blessed be God! we all occupy precisely the same relation to the love, the Divine love, which lies in Jesus Christ. There are no step-children in His great family, and none of them receive a more grudging or a less ample share of His love and goodness than every other. Broad as the race, and curtaining it over as some great tent may enclose on a festal day a whole tribe, the breadth of Christ's love is the breadth of humanity. And this broad love, broad as humanity, is not shallow because it is broad. Our human affections are too often like the estuary of some great stream which runs deep and mighty as long as it is held within narrow banks, but as soon as it widens becomes slow, and powerless, and shallow. The intensity of human affection varies inversely as its extension. A universal philanthropy is a passionless sentiment. But Christ's love is deep though it be wide, and suffers no diminution because it is shared amongst a multitude. There are two ways of arguing about the love of Christ, both of them valid, and both of them needing to be employed by us. We have a right to say, "He loves all, therefore He loves me." And we have a right to say, "He loves me, therefore He loves all." For surely the love that has stooped to me can never pass by any human soul. What is the breadth of the love of Christ? It is broad as mankind, it is narrow as myself.
II. Then, in the next place, WHAT IS THE LENGTH OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST? If we are to think of Him only as a man, however exalted and however perfect, you and I have nothing in the world to do with His love. When He was here on earth it may have been sent down the generations in some vague, pale way, as the shadowy ghost of love may rise in the heart of a great statesman or philanthropist for generations yet unborn, which he dimly sees will be affected by his sacrifice and service. But we do not call that love. Such a poor, pale; Shadowy thing has no right to the warm, throbbing name; has no right to demand from us any answering thrill of affection; and unless you think of Jesus Christ as something more and other than the purest and the loftiest benevolence that ever dwelt in human form, I know of no intelligible sense in which the length of His love can be stretched to touch you. And if we content ourselves with that altogether inadequate and lame conception of Him and of His nature, of course there is no present bond between any man upon earth and Him, and it is absurd to talk about His present love as extending in any way to me. But we have to believe, rising to the full height of the Christian conception of the nature and person of Christ, that when He was here on earth the Divine that dwelt in Him so informed and inspired the human as that the love of His man's heart was able to grasp the whole, and to separate the individuals that should make up the race till the end of time; so as that you and I, looking back over all the centuries, and asking ourselves what is the length of the love of Christ, can say, "It stretches over all the years, and it reached then as it reaches now to touch me, upon whom the ends of the earth have come." Its length is conterminous with the duration of humanity here or yonder. There is another measure of the length of the love of Christ. "Master! How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven." So said the Christ, multiplying perfection into itself twice — two sevens and a ten — in order to express the idea of boundlessness. And the law that He laid down for His servant is the law that binds Himself. What is the length of the love of Christ? Here is one measure of it, howsoever long drawn out my sin may be, it stretches beyond this; and the while line of His love runs out into infinity, far beyond the point where the black line of my sin stops. Anything short of eternal patience would have been long ago exhausted by your sins and mine, and our brethren's. But the pitying Christ, the eternal Lover of all wandering souls, looks down from heaven upon every one of us; goes with us in all our wanderings, bears with us in all our sins, in all our transgressions still is gracious. The length of the love of Christ is the length of eternity, and out-measures all human sin.
III. Then again, WHAT IS THE DEPTH OF THAT LOVE? Depth and height, as I said at the beginning of these remarks, are but two ways of expressing the same dimension; the one we begin at the top and measure down, the other we begin at the bottom and measure up. The top is the Throne; and the downward measure, how is it to be stated? In what terms of distance are we to express it? How far is it from the Throne of the Universe to the manger at Bethlehem, and the Cross at Calvary, and the sepulchre in the garden? That is the depth of the love of Christ. Howsoever far may be the distance from that loftiness of co-equal Divinity in the bosom of the Father, and radiant with glory, to the lowliness of the form of a servant, and the sorrows, limitations, rejections, pains and final death — that is the measure of the depth of Christ's love. As if some planet were to burst from its track and plunge downwards in amongst the mists and the narrowness of our earthly atmosphere, so we can estimate the depth of the love of Christ by saying "He came from above, He tabernacled with us." A well known modern scientist has hazarded the speculation that the origin of life on this planet has been the falling upon it of the fragment of a meteor or an aerolite, from some other system, with a speck of organic life upon it, from which all has developed. Whatever may be the case in regard of the physical life, that is absolutely true in the case of spiritual life. It all comes because this heaven-descended Christ has come down the long staircase of Incarnation, and has brought with Him into the clouds and oppressions of our terrestrial atmosphere a germ of life which He has planted in the heart of the race, there to spread forever. That is the measure of the depth of the love of Christ. And there is another way to measure it. My sins are deep, my helpless miseries are deep, but they are shallow as compared with the love that goes down beneath all sin, that is deeper than all sorrow, that is deeper than all necessity, that shrinks from no degradation, that turns away from no squalor, that abhors no wickedness so as to avert its face from it. The purest passion of human benevolence cannot but sometimes be aware of disgust mingling with its pity and its efforts, but Christ's love comes down, howsoever far in the abyss of degradation any human soul has descended, beneath it are the everlasting arms, and beneath it is Christ's love. When a coal pit gets blocked up by some explosion no brave rescuing party will venture to descend into the lowest depths of the poisonous darkness until some ventilation has come there. But this loving Christ goes down, down, down into the thickest, most pestilential atmosphere, reeking with sin and corruption, and stretches out a rescuing hand to the most abject and undermost of all the victims. How deep is the love of Christ? The deep mines of sin and of alienation are all undermined and countermined by His love. Sin is an abyss, a mystery, how deep only they know who have fought against it; but —
"O Love! thou bottomless abyss,
My sins are swallowed up in thee."I will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. The depths of Christ's love go down beneath all human necessity, sorrow, suffering, and sin.
IV. And, lastly, WHAT IS THE HEIGHT OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST? We found that the way to measure the depth was to begin at the Throne, and go down to the Cross, and to the foul abysses of evil. The way to measure the height is to begin at the Cross and the foul abysses of evil, and go up to the Throne. That is to say, the topmost thing in the universe, the shining apex and summit, glittering away up there in the radiant unsetting light, is the love of God in Jesus Christ. The other conceptions of that Divine nature spring high above us and tower beyond our thoughts, but the summit of them all, the very topmost as it is the very bottommost, outside of everything, and therefore high above everything, is the love of God which has been revealed to us all, and bought for us sinful men in the passion and manhood of our dear Christ. And that love which thus towers above us, and gleams the summit and the apex of the universe, like the shining cross on the top of same lofty cathedral spire, does not gleam there above us inaccessible, nor lie before us like some pathless precipice, up which nothing that has not wings can ever hope to rise, but the height of the love of Christ is an hospitable height, which can be scaled by us. Nay, rather, that heaven of love which is "higher than our thoughts," bends down, as by a kind of optical delusion the physical heaven seems to do, towards each of us, only with this blessed difference, that in the natural world the place where heaven touches earth is always the furthest point of distance from us; and in the spiritual world, the place where heaven stoops to me is always right over my head, and the nearest possible point to me. He' has come to lift us to Himself. And this is the height of His love, that it bears us up, if we will, up and up to sit upon that throne where He Himself is enthroned.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;