1 John 4:9 - 5:3.
In the above verses the love of God is spoken of in two distinct ways; viz. as manifested towards us, and as manifested in us. But the Spirit of God loves to dwell at length upon the former, though dwelling on the latter is necessitated, lest any false or mistaken apprehension of its true character should arise, and rob divine love in the believer of the proper intrinsic character in which it manifests itself, Godward or manward.
The verses, 4:9-18, are, generally speaking, taken up with the manifestation of divine love towards man, and the effect of that manifestation in view of the believer's relations to God and to one another, as well as in contemplation of the day of judgment; i.e. the moral effect of well-known divine love in the light of that day.
Verses 9, 10, and 14 treat of love manifested in sending the Son: firstly, vv. 9, 10, towards believers; secondly, v. 14, towards the world. In the former case there are several points of deepest interest and importance to note. First, pre-eminently the measure of that love, for the sent One is God's "only begotten"; then follow the two vitally important objects, to effect which God's beloved One was specifically sent; viz. "that we might live through Him" (v. 9), and as "the propitiation for our sins" (v. 10), i.e. life and propitiation.
In the former John touches Ephesian truth, in the latter, Romans.
As dead in trespasses and sins, the first essential movement of divine love in its energy and activity must be and is in quickening. The relationships of love must be in life. There must be living vital capacity to enter upon and enjoy all that love can introduce the believer into, in its own peculiar circle of delights, in their highest and holiest character. This the apostle announces and defines as fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. "The Father's delight is in His Son, and we have fellowship with Him in that; Christ's delight is with the Father, and we have fellowship with Him in that. So our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."* It is not for anything less than this that the heavens are opened, and that "the only begotten Son" has been sent. The Father's heart would share with His people His delight in Him whose work and Person are ever before Him, as the fragrance of frankincense, perpetual and eternal. This is the first peculiar and special manifestation of the love of God in the sent One; the second is the absolute removal of all that could hinder these unclouded relations - "to be the propitiation for our sins."
*Col. Writings, vol. xvi. p. 253.
Of what avail the life, capable of sustaining such a marvellous relationship and fellowship, if the consciousness of unatoned guilt remains? "The Only Begotten" as the sent One, in His work of propitiation, meets divinely this absolute requirement; and is at once the Bearer away of sins, the Bringer of the soul to God, and the Sender of the Spirit of God, the holy witness-bearer to the fact - "Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
Verse 14 widens the circle in which love divine has manifested itself, by setting forth the sent One in the character of "the Saviour of the world." As such He came, as such He suffered. He was presented by a God of measureless grace as the One in whom the hope of every individual centres - "There is none other name given among men whereby we must be saved." Thus the full witness of the love of God universally is displayed, although salvation is not here the subject-matter of the apostle's ministry.
The mystery of the love of God is presented to us in v. 10. Its objects are those who in themselves are unloving and unlovable. No motive originating in those upon whom divine love has been expended was discernible or discoverable: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us." It reminds us of the mystery of God's love to Israel in Deut. 7:7, 8. It was not in complacent delight, but in commiseration and compassion, that Jehovah's love was exercised towards His people. It was a love that was motiveless, save as finding its motive in its own mysterious being, that manifested itself in providing a Saviour who was no less than "the only begotten Son." But when the love of God has done its blessed work, when conscience and heart have found their rest through the possession of life and the knowledge of propitiation, how real, if confessedly feeble, the response to the apostle's exhortation, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another"!
These two divine realities, measures, and expressions of divine love possessed and enjoyed, connecting the heart of each individual believer with God, could not exist without begetting love to all similarly possessing and enjoying life and propitiation. Mutual attraction is the outcome of mutual possession of that love of which God is the source. "So loved . . . we ought to love one another."
But a further wonderful truth now comes to light. God is invisible, and no man hath seen Him at any time. Nevertheless, He who is invisible as to His being indwells the believer, and is demonstrated as so doing by the existence in him of divine love towards his fellow-believers - for "if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is made perfect in us." But further, we know by the fact of the indwelling Spirit we dwell in God and He in us. The former, that is, love to one another, demonstrates what the latter - the indwelling Spirit - effectuates; for the Spirit that indwells is the Spirit of God - the spring of love and source of knowledge.
Verse 14 is apostolic testimony in its widest range, founded upon apostolic privilege: "We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son (to be) the Saviour of the world." The practical fruit and result of this testimony - which, since it embraces the world, appeals to "whosoever" - is the confession "that Jesus is the Son of God." He is identified in the soul's convictions, as the Son sent and the Saviour of the world, with Him who, in the form of the lowly Jesus, was disowned and crucified, but who, thus received into the heart, is personally the measure and expression of the love of God. Hence the very confession that Jesus is the Son of God is the witness that "God dwelleth in him, and he in God"; for as to the former, Jesus is God in manifestation; as to the latter, the believer has found his abiding rest in Him who has perfectly expressed Himself in the gift of the Son.
It is thus through the reception and confession of Jesus as the Son sent and the Saviour that "we [Christians] have known and believed the love that God hath to us." But "God is love, and he that dwelleth in love [which God is, and of which Jesus is the manifestation] dwelleth in God, and God in him."
It is remarkable and characteristic in John's epistle how God and love are used as almost synonymous terms. The latter furnishes a substantive reality to that which must otherwise remain an abstract and indefinite conception. We are thus brought, through the revelation of what God is, into happy intimacy with God, dwelling in Him and He in us.
Once more in the light of that which so searchingly tests, the Christian abides in perfect undisturbed repose, for in the knowledge that "as He is, so are we in this world, love has been perfected with us" (New Trans.), and we have boldness in the contemplation morally of what must otherwise even in anticipation appall. Hence the knowledge of this is deliverance, doctrinally viewed. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." The undelivered soul is constantly distressed by some passing shade of fear in viewing God as Judge. But that divine Person who is appointed Judge is Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. (Acts 17:31.) How fear-dispelling then to know that "as He is, so are we in this world. Perfect love casteth out fear . . . He that feareth is not made perfect in love." But the initial movement in love was God's. "We love Him because He first loved us."
The apostle now turns, in an instructional and corrective way, to deal with the question of the Christian's love, or rather of divine love in the Christian.
It is a serious thing to lay claim to loving God. It is a poor thing to be in any way occupied with it at any time or for any purpose. Truly and divinely existing, it is not claimed but expressed, according to its own intrinsic and inherent characteristics. The seed needs labelling only when the process and progress of life is checked. Under normal conditions of moisture, soil, and warmth it speedily manifests, with unerring truth, its own essential and peculiar characteristics. It is thus with divine love in the believer. Under normal spiritual conditions he does not need to label himself with the claim, "I love God." (v. 20.) God's seed within him will assuredly manifest itself, unmistakably and accurately, under the twofold characteristics of brotherly love and obedience to God. These are the divine blossoms of fragrance and beauty which delight the heart of God, but of which he who most possesses them is the least conscious; for the graces of the Christian are wisely and mysteriously veiled from himself, though God finds His pleasure and delight in the perfume of brotherly love and filial obedience.
We learn here that the essential characteristic of love in God and in the Christian is identical; viz., that both are characterized by giving. It is the mode or manner in which divine love invariably manifests itself. God so loved that He gave. He, the Son of God, loved me and gave, etc. Christ loved the church and gave, etc. (See 1 John 3:16; 4:9, 10 - 14 and other passages.) But the Christian manifests and expresses the love in him, too, by giving; viz., by giving to God obedience, and he finds his pleasure therein - to his brother love, practically expressed, which according to the high standard of divine expectation may be called to go as far as laying down his life for the brethren, after the model of love towards himself. (1 John16.) Thus heavenward and earthward, love in the believer finds its object and its outlet, its measure and expression. It tolerates and entertains no thought of gain or advantage, spiritual or temporal. And though love answers to love, owing to its very nature in some practical way, yet the expectation of resulting advantages does not constitute one of its elements. "Charity . . . seeketh not her own."
How remarkable and how beautiful is the expression of this divine trait of love in Mephibosheth on the occasion of David's return from exile in 2 Sam. 19:30. The grace of David's heart which had its divine source in "the kindness of God" (chap. 9:3) had taken such full possession of Mephibosheth as to eclipse all thought of advantage. The love that had stooped to raise a "man of death" (v. 28, margin) to "eat continually at the king's table," had begotten a love that could not afford to think of itself, or to measure its gain. Rather its pure disinterestedness is seen in its response to David's words, I have said, Thou and Ziba divide the land. And Mephibosheth said . . . Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house." This spirit of grace and adoption breathed in its own divine energy in these words. It was sonship's response to unmeasured love. How brightly in relief this scene stands out against the dark background of Ziba's pretentious affection, which coldly calculated upon some measured advantage to himself. But Ziba had never passed from the relationship of servant to that of son by adoption; indeed, had never yet been in the apprehension of the grace of David in its full measure. In the language of chap. 16:4 he was yet seeking grace - "I humbly beseech thee that I may find grace in thy sight, my lord, O king." Never having been emancipated from the servants' status into the son's liberty, he was not above appropriating the advantages which in spirit he was never free from identifying with his own devotedness. Without a word of protest, but with silent consent, he hears David's words investing him with all Mephibosheth's possessions, "Behold, thine are all that pertained to Mephibosheth."
Scripture thus defines for us very clearly and unmistakably the distinction between a love that still bears the character of a servant-relationship, and that which is occupying the happy and blessed relationship of son.
The New Testament furnishes us further with a remarkable and most important illustration of the way in which love - real divine love - may connect itself with reflective advantage as the result of its own activity. Peter sought to be accredited with greater love to the Lord than his fellow-disciples on the ground of the strength of his affection for the Lord. He estimated that it would carry him to the point of rendering the highest testimony possible to his devotedness - "I am ready to go with Thee both to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33.) But Peter had never yet learnt himself. When that solemn but much-needed lesson was learnt, the recognition of love in himself reached its lowest ebb, and the love and grace of Christ, of God in Christ, displaced with its full divine flow the poor, paltry thing in him that he had ventured to exalt.
Up to the moment in the history of the soul when self is thoroughly learnt through experiences as profitable if not as painful as Peter's, the believer may perhaps accredit himself with love; but having learnt that "without strength" embraces love as well as power to resist the tyranny of sin within, he discovers an unfailing spring of joy in the measureless love of which God is the source, and which has come out towards him. In the light and presence of this, all estimate of, and occupation with, the taper that burns so dimly in himself vanishes; and the very existence of it, with Peter, he fully acknowledges can only be discerned by omniscience - "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee." True affections are identified further with a certain position or sphere in which we are already set, as in Mephibosheth's case. As one has said whose words are still valued: "Right affections and duties flow from the place we are already in, and are never the means of getting into it.*
*Collected Writings, vol. x. p. 505.
But to return to our portion. If love to God is measured and expressed by obedience, love to the brethren is also only divinely expressed by obedience to God: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." Love to one another is a holy thing, and is in no way allied to loose indifference as to our personal path or the path of the Lord's people. God's commandments are the expression of His love as well as of His authority; to ignore these is to fail in the essentially characteristic feature of divine love. Again, in the second epistle the apostle repeats this warning word in connection with loving one another (v. 5) - "And this is love, that we keep His commandments."
How beautifully the beloved apostle answers personally to the Lord's exhortation to all His disciples, "Continue ye in My love," veiling his own name and identity under the title, "the disciple whom Jesus loved."
Though this was blessedly the common heritage of each, John was more individually sensible of it as the spring of inexhaustible delight; but he shrouded completely his love to the Lord beneath that which wholly satisfied and absorbed him; viz., Christ's love to him. John thus distanced Peter spiritually, the latter up to this period not having got beyond occupation with his love to Christ.
When divine love has made its own impression upon the heart it will speedily find its expression after its own type and character outwardly. One of old has beautifully expressed this ruling principle, that impression must precede expression in dwelling upon love's character and love's energy and jealousy: "Set me as a seal upon Thine heart, as a seal upon Thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave." (Song of Solomon 8:6.)
"O past and gone.
How great is God! how small am I -
A mote in the illimitable sky,
Amidst the glory deep and wide and high
Of heaven's unclouded sun.
There to forget myself for evermore,
Lost, swallowed up in love's immensity,
The sea that knows no sounding and no shore,
God only there, not I.
More near than I unto myself can be,
Art Thou to me;
So have I lost myself in finding Thee,
Have lost myself for ever, O my Sun!
The boundless heaven of Thy eternal love
Around me, and beneath me, and above.
In glory of that golden day
The former things are passed away -
I, past and gone." M. C. G.