18. God, our God.
God, who is light — God, who hates iniquity, — God and who cannot look upon sin — God, who knows our inmost being and all our ways, is our God. We find rest of heart, even though our hearts condemn us, in the knowledge, that the Great Searcher of hearts is our God. For He with whom we have to do is love.
More than 1800 years have rolled by since the wonderful message, “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God” (John 20:17), was sent by the risen Lord Himself to His disciples and, from that day, the portion of all God's people has been to know God in all the fulness of His love. Still, as a matter of experience, it is frequently the case that the heart of the christian is more at home when occupied with Jesus than in approaching God. Perhaps, there exists in his mind a remnant of that sorrowful misapprehension of God, which portrays Him as an angry Being, with whom His Son intercedes upon behalf of men in order to reconcile Him to them; or it may be that, through not being established in the gospel of our salvation, the infinite holiness of God causes him to tremble. Now God is the source of all our blessing; He is the Author of His gospel, and it is in the confidence of what God is, according to the revelation which He has given of Himself, that our souls find rest.
There is in the fourth chapter of the first Epistle of John a jewelled chain of God's love, which we do well to wear about our hearts.
GOD is love. (1 John 4:8.)
GOD'S love manifested in sending His Son to give us life. (1 John 4:9.)
GOD'S love in sending His Son a propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10.)
GOD'S love to us our motive for loving one another. (1 John 4:11)
GOD'S love in giving us of His Spirit. (1 John 4:13.)
GOD'S love our testimony to the world. (1 John 4:14.)
GOD'S love in dwelling in His people. (1 John 4:15.)
GOD'S love giving us boldness in the day of judgment. (1 John 4:17.)
GOD'S love casting out our fear. (1 John 4:8.)
GOD'S love to us drawing us to love God. (1 John 4:19.)
“God is love.” This is an eternal truth. The centre of all blessing, the spring of all joy. Before the world was or the angels were called into being, from everlasting to everlasting, God is love. Had man never been created, the fact of God being love had been the same. The human mind could never have conceived the thought; human nature could not have originated the truth, that God is love. Had God not made known the wonderful reality to us, to this hour man must have been in utter ignorance of the blessed fact. The wisdom of the world possesses not in its treasury these heaven-sent words “God is love.” In its wealth they are not to be found.
The joy of God's creatures originates from, and depends upon, the nature of God. The heart of God is the sun from which all our happiness radiates. The love of God is not like a lake locked within the heights of an inaccessible mountain, but it flows down from heaven to the poor and thirsty upon this earth. And it is our joy to know that God is love, because
God's love has been manifested to us.
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” (v. 9.) Without the new life it had been impossible for us to respond to God's love. The sweetest strains of music, the most exquisite display of beauty, the most delicate odours of perfume, excite no desires, awake no pleasure within a corpse. And by nature we are spiritually dead towards God; insensible to Him. But with God's gift of life we have obtained a capacity for the enjoyment of Himself, and our hearts can now enter into His love.
In His own love God sent His Son to give us this life. For the gracious activity of love to man issues from God Himself. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.) God's own love is the reservoir; His Son the communicator of the love to us. Through the Son the love flows towards us, and from Him we receive Eternal Life.
But not only has God in love to us sent His Son to be our life, He has removed from us everything that is contrary to Himself, and that hinders us from dwelling in His presence;
God's love has found a propitiation for our sins.
“God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (John 1:5), therefore He could not have us in His presence in our sinfulness, neither could uncleansed sinners abide before God in His righteousness. It is a necessity for God's holiness, as well as for our liberty in that holiness, that if we should be before God it must be according to His thoughts and His perfections. Having the life capable of enjoying God given to us, we need perfect cleansing from the sins which, as possessors of a fallen nature, we commit. The holy life without the cleansing would not give us peace before God. To possess a life capable of enjoying God, without the removing of the evil acts and evil propensities of a fallen nature, would be an eternity of distress. And for want of faith in what God has done in providing the propitiation for their sins, many of God's own people are in sorrow of heart before Him. They have received the Son, by grace — and “he that hath the Son hath life” — but they have not believed God's testimony about the blood of Jesus, and they know not that they are cleansed. Cleansing such as God requires could be effected in only one way. There could be only one propitiation suitable to God. Only One Person, by only one way could render satisfaction for our guilt. Jesus's blood is the propitiation, and by Him we are brought into perfect righteousness before God. The propitiation of God's providing has given all, who accredit God, perfect peace, and thus the love of God has established them in confidence before Him, and thus has God's love brought His people into His presence suitably with Himself.
In God is this love. God did not look for it within our hearts. He loved us in our enmity towards Him, and when sinning against Him, and, in the full knowledge of what we are, He sent His Son, the propitiation for our sins. It is our comfort and our strength to search into God's heart for the love, while it is only a hopeless effort to look within our own hearts, when without peace, for love to God. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)
The manner of God's love to us is our motive for loving one another.
God loved us when there was nothing in us to love, and when there was no response in our hearts to His heart. And the manifested love of God to us should bear its fruit in our behaviour towards our fellow believers; “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (v. 11.) “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1:18.) The name of Father was manifested to man by Him who dwelt in His Father's bosom; who abode in the love of His Father's heart. And again we read, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12.) For the children of God, when loving in a divine way, have God dwelling in them. And thus, God's love toward His children is perfected in them. They become the expressions of it. Filled with it, the heart overflows. The love of God enriches the heart so that there is ability to give out love to others. There is no stint in God's love, but marvellous meagreness in man's love. But as God dwells in us, the naturally selfish heart of man becomes a fountain of kindness towards others, and that of a divine character.
Thus has God brought His people into moral union with Himself. We are partakers of the divine nature. But the greatness of God's love has blessings yet to bestow —
God's love has given us of His Spirit.
We cannot enter into God's thoughts or delight in Himself of our own might. Man's finite power, addressed to discover the knowledge of God, merely drives him upon the rocks of infidelity. “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” But God has not left His people in the dark about Himself. He has given us of His own Spirit; we have received “the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things which are freely given us of God.” (1 Cor. 2:11, 12.)
In His love to us, God would have us know the things of His own heart, and the things which He has bestowed upon us. Giving us of His own Spirit, God has brought us into the apprehension of Himself, and enabled us to hold communion with Himself respecting Himself. Not only to take delight in what He has done for us, but to delight in Himself because of what He is. When the Spirit of God is unhindered in His gracious action within us, our hearts then dwell in God. God becomes the home for our affections, and, in His wonderful grace, He pleases to make our hearts His dwelling-place. “Hereby do we know that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” (1 John 4:13.)
Eternal life, the Propitiation, and His own Spirit, are the gifts of God's love to us. Hence it is that
God's love to us is the strength of our testimony to the world.
His love to us is the energy of our feet in carrying abroad the gospel of our salvation. “We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son, the Saviour of the world.” (v. 14.) The believer has seen and experienced the love of which he himself is the willing witness. He can say even more than that God loved the world. He knows as His Father the God who spared not His Son, therefore he testifies that the Father sent His own Son to be the Saviour! In fellowship with the Father and the Son the believer is enabled to tell of that love, which eternity itself shall have never fully told. And when the heart is practically enjoying the love of God the natural result is testimony to the world. Just as when the empty pitcher has remained a while beneath the flowing spring it begins to overflow itself. The passive vessel becomes an active bestower of bounty. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Whether it be a golden or an earthen vessel which contains the water, the thirsty ask not; neither gift nor eloquence is necessary; but whoever he may be, that has a heart filled with the love of God, becomes a welcome testimony of divine love to the perishing world.
It is a rule with God's gifts that the greatest of christian blessings are the common property of all the family. Of these blessings none can be higher than
God's love in indwelling His people.
Yet this great blessing the simplest of saints shares with the apostle John, even as in a family the new-born babe as well as the eldest son are alike the objects and the sharers of their father's love. John said, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us,” adding, “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Abiding in that love is abiding in God, and then God abides in His people. The apostle spoke from a heart richly stored with the love which is of God. But some might say, God dwelling in us and we in God belongs only to a very few. Not so; for such is the grace of God, that “whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him, and he in God.” Thus does this gracious word “whosoever,” which has eased the troubled souls of thousands, emboldened multitudes to come to God, and encouraged countless hosts of lost sinners to claim gospel mercies for themselves, embrace every believer and lift him up into those privileges of nearness to God which the greatest of the apostles enjoyed. God dwells in that one however simple, however humble — whose heart believes on His Son, and whose lips confess Him.
God's love in giving us boldness in the day of judgment.
God is our God. He has associated our hearts with Himself, and Himself with our purified affections. And He with whom this hallowed fellowship exists is Light: There is no fellowship with Him and darkness. We could not enjoy communion with Him while the sense of unpardoned sin rested upon our consciences. But the blood of Jesus has cleansed us once and for ever: it never loses its cleansing power. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” But there are sins frequently committed, for our conduct is not always becoming those who are in the light. For these God has made provision; “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), so that cleansed by Himself we may again have intercourse with Him. The family circle affords an illustration of the moral effect of this truth. The father loves his children, and has the joy of their affections, and they have the joy of his. But suppose a child guilty of disobedience. Thereupon the child's heart is uneasy, and the evil act, like a cloud, rises up between its heart and the father's. Then the father asks why the wonted smile is missing, why the little feet are slow to run to meet him. He perceives the reason. Evil has barred the child's joy in him, and also hinders his expression of love to the child. Then the child owns what it has done, confesses its ways, and is forgiven. Whereupon there is in it the sense of cleansing, and so once more the streams of love mingle. God, who searches us, knows our evil and declension of heart towards Himself, and He, by His Spirit, makes us to own our sins before Him. Also the Lord Himself is occupied for us to bring us into God's presence, and to produce the sensitiveness to evil, which God's holiness requires, and thus arises the confession of evil done, without which the heart would become deadened to God; and the result of the confession is our blessing.
If, then, these things be so while we traverse this earth, how shall we enter the presence of His unclouded light in eternity? “We must all appear (be made manifest) before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10), and then everything which we have done will be brought into the light. To the unsaved, this day will be awful beyond thought, but to the saved it will be unutterable blessing. We shall stand there in glorified bodies and in unsullied righteousness. He who will be Judge upon the throne, is Jesus, the lover of our souls, Who was crucified for us upon the cross. He before Whom we shall each be manifested, has already been manifested to put away our sins. That day of light and bringing into the light,will possess no terrors to the believer. Does the child tremble when in its father's arms and bosomed in his love he owns his ways and confesses his guilt? And in that day the perfect triumph of Divine love will be witnessed in God's people. “Herein is love with us (see margin) made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” (1 John 4:17.) God's love with us! His love, that is not only for us, but with us now, shall, in the day of judgment, be seen in its full perfections, and the weak and failing, and, alas, often sinning, children of God shall have boldness before the throne.
God would remove from us all questionings. He would have His people in perfect rest before Him, therefore He links with the display of judgment our present standing before Himself in Christ, “for as He is, so are we in this world.” (v. 17.) As Christ is in resurrection, so are we, though in this world of sin and death. Yes, as He is in glory; as He is, accepted on high in the favour of God; as He is, the enthroned One, even so are we in the world at this moment, weak, helpless, sinning, though we be.
“God's love casts out fear.”
God's love itself, so deep, so wonderful, and His love in taking us up, poor atoms as we are in His great universe, and filling us with Himself, leaves no room for ought else in our hearts but love. As His great love enters, fears flee away. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.” (v. 8.) Small and insignificant as is man in the mighty creation of God, so wonderfully made is he, that none but the infinite God can satisfy His longings, and none but the perfect love of God can cast out his fears.
God's love to us has knit our hearts in love to Him.
God is ours who believe on His Son; ours, because He is love, and loves to love us. Let us, then, bind this chain of His love about our hearts, and wear it continually. Here is its clasp, “We love Him, because He first loved us.” (v. 19.)