The love of God may be viewed in three distinct aspects. First, the love of compassion; second, the love of complacency; and, third, the love of communion. Or, first, the love of God to the sinner, second, the love of God to the saint; and, third, the love of God to the saint who acts obediently.
First, God loves the sinner! Wondrous fact. And for the knowledge of this fact we are indebted to the New Testament. In the Old we find God dealing in mercy, doubtless; for how could He deal with any child of Adam, at any time, save on the ground of mercy? But in the Old Testament man was under trial—not yet declared or treated as formally lost—and he had to learn, through God’s varied ways, that his condition was utterly hopeless.
But if, in the Old Testament, the full character of man was not divulged, neither was that of God; both are declared fully in the New—the total depravity of man—the absolute love of God.
“If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Cor. 4:3); and also “God is love” (1 John 4).
Take for the illustration of each of these facts, the case of the prodigal, in which the gospel is so beautifully pictured. The condition of the man is described as dead toward God, and lost to his fathers. He had displayed enmity to his father, and had gone as far as sin could take him. Brought to destitution, he repents, and in misery he returns to his father. Now, what was the result? What was the father’s conduct towards him? He saw him—had compassion—ran—fell on his neck and kissed him! A more exquisite concurrence of guilt on the one hand and of grace on the other was never painted. It is absolutely inimitable, and as absolutely true. The sinner—for such was the prodigal—comes to the Father in the confession of his irretrievable ruin; he is met in that condition by the richest expression of the Father’s love. Words fail to describe the scene. It is a scene painted by the Master’s hand in surpassing beauty, grand in its simplicity, wonderful in its accuracy, captivating in its naturalness. Oh, who but God Himself should thus delineate His own compassion?
That compassion, observe, was spontaneous. There was nought in the prodigal to call it forth. It originated, it had its source in the father’s heart. It was not kindled or brought into existence, by anything in the prodigal. Its secret is found in the three precious words, “God is love.” That being so, the effect is natural. Love takes its own course. And so, when we turn from illustration to doctrine, we find that “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins” He loved us. Do any ask why? How can this be? How can a holy God love those who are “dead in sins”? Can He love sin? Can He tolerate its faintest breath? Is He not pledged by that very holiness—by the fact that “God is light,” to judge it?—to express His eternal abhorrence of it in the persons—whether men or angels who have thus offended against Him? Yes, all perfectly true. But the reason of His love for the sinner is simply and only found in the fact that “God is love.” It explains all His tender dealings with us. It reminds us that He “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Oh! when the poor guilty soul discovers for the first time that, spite of all demerit, he is an object of God’s love, he fears no more, he confides, he rests, and is satisfied!
If my reader has for years lived in darkness and misery, dreading the day when, perforce, you must meet your unknown God, let me persuade you that He is love, that He gave His Son to prove it, that He wishes your salvation, and that even you are welcome—for His love toward a guilty world is one of deep compassion.
Second, God loves the saint. Here we have the love of relationship, for the term saint, so unhappily misunderstood, simply means one brought into the family of God—a child of God.. The moment he becomes a true Christian, he is a saint.
Hence we find epistles addressed to the “saints in Christ Jesus”—Whoever is set apart in Christ to God is a saint. Let this fact be clearly grasped. What the conduct and marks of such should be we will consider presently. But when God takes up a prodigal He not only shows him compassion; His love goes further still, He invests him in a robe, gives him a ring and sandals. The robe declares him justified; the ring betokens relationship; and the sandals for his feet indicate a new kind of walk. He must be a saint before he can be a follower of Christ.
Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, the poor sinner enters upon a new relation with God. He stands forthwith in His favour. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart. He is a child of God, and God finds pleasure in him by virtue of this relationship.
A parent loves his child, has pleasure in him, finds a source of interest and delight in him that he can find in no other children. This relationship implies complacency. You show compassion to the beggar calling at your door, but delight in him you have not, Why? Because he is not yours. The relationship is not there. Hence, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God,” who has “predestinated us unto the adoption of children unto Himself, by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will.” It was His good pleasure that we should be in that relation to Himself. It is the love of complacency.
Third, God loves the obedient saint. This is the love that a father feels for a child who is dutiful, obedient, respectful—one to whom the father’s will is supreme, and who, at all cost, seeks the accomplishment of this. The relation is just the same; but has a father equal confidence in all his children? Can be communicate with equal frankness the secrets of His heart to all? Nay; community of interest with the father is not the portion of all alike. It is not want of fatherly affection, nor is it partiality, but it is a question of confidence communion.
Take the case of Abraham and Lot. Both were saints; the love of relationship was alike in each instance, but God said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” And “that thing,” notice, was the destruction of the city where Lot lived; yet Lot was not the vessel of communication. Why this preference? Because Abraham had community of thought with God, while Lot’s interests lay in Sodom. Solemn truth! Now, obedience to God leads to this exalted privilege; disobedience disqualifies and unfits the soul for it. How can there be community of thought or interest with God when His Spirit is grieved? Impossible. And be assured that the lack of spiritual intelligence in the word of God, so widely and sadly manifest is attributable to lack of obedience. Meet a saint whose constant desire and effort is to obey God, to carry out His word, to test all His ways in the world or in the Church by that Word, and you find one who, in his measure, has communion with God. Obedience is always the test. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Were this principle of unquestioning obedience but engraven in our souls, how different would be the state of the Church of God! It is a day of great activity, but is it one of obedience? Activity may make much of what is outward, and thus glory in man—in itself, but obedience may and does humble, yet this vessel alone is meet for the Master’s use.
In Deuteronomy 7 we find both the love of complacency and that of communion. In verse 8 we read, “The Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers has the Lord brought you out;” then, in verse 12, “If ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them … He will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee.” The first is according to His oath to the fathers, and absolute; the second is contingent upon obedience—“if ye do.” The same principle is found in John 1:21, “He that loves Me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him.”
This is the love of communion. As Christians we all stand on one communion platform, and in one blessed relationship. Thank God, that is settled and perfect, and the heart can always turn back to it; but how deeply important to cultivate by obedience to Him a spirit of communion with Him, for our own joy, His glory in us, and our reward by and by.