A Christian woman, when on her death-bed, said, in answer to a questioner, “The character of God is between my soul and hell.” Blessed fact! “God is just and the justifier of Him that believes in Jesus.”
Now, what is the character of God as revealed in the scriptures? First: “God is Love,” and second, “God is Light”—so we read in the first Epistle of John, and, in this double way as combining these two qualities, is God made known to us. I speak first of “Love,” although, as to actual statement, it occurs second in the Epistle referred to, for, whatever the judgments by which the dealings of God have been marked, such as the flood, &c., yet it has pleased Him to express His nature in the gift of His Son—a fact which in itself proves that His judicial dealings do not spring from malice. Sin calls for correction, but God, whilst punishing the sin, pities the sinner, and mercifully seeks by correction, to make known the malignity of sin, and thus to turn the soul to Himself. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Greater proof could not be asked nor given of the immensity of God’s love.
The first effect of sin was to lead man to distrust God. They “hid themselves amongst the trees of the garden.” Such is never the way of confidence. But sin produced a suspicion of God, and from that moment to this the love of God is doubted by the natural heart. It is a remarkable fact, that in the whole range of heathen mythology there cannot be found an idea of love in the “gods many” to whom bloody sacrifices are offered in abundance, or self-abnegation practised, in order to appease an outraged deity. There is the need of Christianity to dispel such darkness, and to whisper into our hearts the glorious truth, “God is Love,” and if, in Christianity, a sacrifice be necessary, if “the Son of Man must be lifted up,” by whom was that sacrifice given? He was “the Lamb of God.” The grace of God provided what His justice demanded, “Deliver from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom,” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Such is the uniform voice of the gospel. God is the blessed Giver, and Christ the precious Gift, and this for the benefit of those who hated God. What grace! Oh! that such a Gospel might be sounded over the surface of the earth, might overtake the lie published in Eden, might chase away the dark night clouds of heathenism, Mahommedanism, and apostate Christendom! “God is Love,” “God is Love!”
Ah! true, the heart of man may not believe it. He may look at God through the gloomy medium of his sins, sorrows, and trials, may say, How can God love me, when His ways with me are so hard? Well, we are prone to forget that whom the Lord loves He chastens, that—
“Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
and that, if we use such a medium our souls must be filled with distraction. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and ye have seen the end of the Lord.”
But providence is not a full exponent of the heart of God. It is only at the cross that His love is fully discovered. “God commends His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” When, by grace, the soul rests there, then God is known, and the difficulties introduced by sin are all removed. “We have known and believed the love that God has toward us.”
My reader, have you yet known and believed that love? Do you know the God who has thus revealed Himself?
But there is another side. “God is Light.” Now light makes manifest, and when the truth of God shines upon the heart, how it discloses the evil therein! Darkness flies before light, and God is intolerant of sin. Hence the word “judgment,” and hence, too, God is called the “Judge of all.” Were God only Love, there would be no hell—were He only Light, there would be no heaven, saving for those who never fell. Again, were He only Love, the heaven gained by such as we, would be without holiness, justice and truth; and were He only Light, the hell awarded would be fully deserved indeed, but it would be rather the fiat of Omnipotence than a retribution for sin which must commend itself to the conscience of the lost. Man has sinned—you, I, have sinned—our demerit is infinite. God is Light! These are terrific facts—but they must be accepted. Man hates them, would close his eyes to them. I heard of someone who asked a bookseller for the wall-text, “God is Light.” He replied, “It is not in stock; it would not sell!” Ah! does not this reveal the state of the heart?
Yet “God is Light,” and therefore the expulsion from Eden, the Flood, the captivity of Israel, and many minor judgments; “God is Light,” and therefore the cross—where He who knew no sin was made sin for us—where the Son of Man who must be lifted up was lifted up, and where the foundation was laid for the blessing of man. “God is Light,” and therefore the “great white throne,” with its awfully solemn circumstances of judgment; “God is Light,” and therefore the “lake of fire which is the second death,” a death from which there is no resurrection, but where the punishment is everlasting.
But now the question arises—What can Love do in order to satisfy the claims of Light, and then indulge itself in saving the sinner? The Cross is the answer. There the punishment of sin was borne by the sinless One, and the way opened for Love to bless, in perfect righteousness, all who believe.
“So Justice now demands no more,
And Mercy yields her boundless store.”
“God is just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus.”
No marvel that the cross has been called “the moral wonder of the universe.” Creation displays the power of God—law His holiness—providence His inscrutability, but at the Cross we see the meeting-place of Light and Love—all that God is in nature, judging sin in Him who knew no sin in order that Love, in all its blessed fulness, might roll, like a torrent, over a guilty world, and make salvation from a well-merited hell, the portion sure and certain of him that believes.
And thus it is that the character of God is the blessed security of the believer.
“That which can shake the cross
May shake the peace it gave,
Which tells me Jesus never died,
And never left the grave.
“Till then my peace is sure,
It will not, cannot, yield,
Christ Jesus died and rose again,
On this firm rook I build.”