Thrice in his writings does the apostle Paul use the above expression. To him the love of Christ was a bright reality. It was no momentary idea, no passing emotion. It was a living and all-operative fact in his soul. It gave a colour to all his life, and a charm to all his ministry. Without that spring his oft-tried heart must have speedily failed, and the energies of his soul have withered. But, under the potent spell of that everlasting love, he retained his freshness and confidence and devotion to the very end.
How much depends on the daily enjoyment of the love of Christ. It is our starting-post as Christians. We learned its sweetness when first grace opened our hearts and led us to God. It will be our eternal theme when the sorrows of our desert journey are a thing of the past. It may well sustain our spirits today in the path of true testimony here. The loss of the sense of it is practically the loss of everything in that path. Activity, zeal, accuracy, love for souls, self-denial, and so on, become but a shell, a carcase, a form without it. Ephesus (Rev. 2) left her “first love,” and left, in point of fact, all that made the Christian life worth living. No doubt she maintained much separation from all kinds of evil, and was peculiarly jealous of the truth and of doctrine; but withal the precious mainspring was wanting, and hence the seriousness of the Lord’s rebuke, “Remember therefore from whence thou are fallen.”
To leave the “first love” is regarded by Him as a “fall,” a sad and serious and irretrievable loss, which is in nowise compensated by zeal, or devotion to certain forms, doctrines, or practices. Nay, what He primarily seeks is the chief place in our affections. Granted that (through His grace), then all else will of necessity assume its proper place. Love first—“the love of Christ”—and its fair sequel will assuredly follow.
And so, in writing to the Romans (Rom. 8:35), exposed as they were to persecution and hatred on all sides on account of their Christianity, the apostle says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Could he have furnished better cheer or kinder comfort to them? Impossible! “Killed all the day long” for Christ’s sake, living a chronic death, so to speak, on His account, pursued by peril and sword, losing all things here, to them the love of Christ remained. It was their security, their sun, their shield, their everlasting arm, their unfading treasure when everything failed.
What a portion! Theirs and ours too, beloved, though today we may not suffer as they did, or feel the exact form of Satan’s power that displayed itself then. The separations of today, though not by fire and sword, are sore and keen as then, but from the love of Christ separation is impossible. He loves to the end, but with a love as careful of our good, and as true to our weal, as it is eternal. It is a holy and perfect love. Who would have it otherwise? It is the stay, the strength, the pure and blessed home of our hearts. It is the source and measure of our security.
Then again, in his second epistle to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 5:14), where, with a heart set free to unbosom itself to his children, now repentant and cleared before God of the evils referred to in the first epistle, and dwelling as he does with much fullness on the nature of Christian ministry, he says, “The love of Christ constrains us.” What a motive! and how constant! On the wear and tear of that sacred but arduous ministry every other motive proves ineffectual. Confronted by the subtle and multiform opposition of Satan; the unbelief, superstition, and crookedness of men; the deplorable activities of a perverted nature and much carnality in the saints, no motive power less than the love of Christ could sustain day by day and year by year the true servant of the Lord. But the apostle knew that mighty influence, and was its bright resultant. When mere actual activity or zeal must have given up in despair, the love of Christ still constrained. It was the love of One who had died for us and risen again (v. 15). And what can touch the heart more deeply than the blessed fact that He died for us? Again, I must say, it is our happy wisdom to take our stand daily in view of the cross of Jesus. We learn there that which we can learn nowhere else. To place ourselves on that spot, made green and fertile by the united streams of sorrow and love that flowed four down, and let our proud and foolish hearts be melted and broken, and our souls pervaded by a divinely-given sense of the infinite grace of our precious Saviour, so that we may come away possessed of a new spring and motive, will assuredly enable us to face the combined evils of the world in our little path of service in it. There is nothing like the cross, like the love of a crucified Christ, for wooing and winning, purifying and keeping our renewed affections.
Beloved, may we all know that love much better, and be led to live to Him who is now our risen Lord.
“I suffered much for thee,
More than thy tongue can tell;
Of bitterest agony
To rescue thee from hell.
I suffered much for thee,
What canst thou bear for Me?”
This is His tender appeal to each of His blood-bought people, and an answer to that appeal will express itself in a “ministry” that is unselfish, uncovetous, lowly, pure, devoted, and for the glory of God. The love of Christ is the only motive for Christian testimony.
Finally, the apostle prays (in Ephesians 3:16, 19) “that He would grant you … to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge.” But do we not know it? Are we quite ignorant of it? Nay, it is our security, it is our motive, it is indeed our portion. It has cast out fear. But who can say he knows that which passes knowledge? The brethren of Joseph thought, perhaps, that they knew his love for them. But the test came, and how they wounded his heart by their fears and suspicions as to it! Christ’s love for His people passes knowledge. The manger, the garden, the cross, the throne, all bear witness to its fullness and eternity. But who can fully know its everlasting strength?
From surveying the glories—those illimitable glories to which none the less he attaches a breadth and a length, a depth and a height, and which are to be comprehended by the faith of the saints, the apostle returns to present to us that which is beyond all measurement, but which is to be known (though truly beyond all ken), and realized, and enjoyed, and made the very food of our souls. It is the communion of the love of Christ. The bright rays of that eternal sun fall upon and illumine and maintain in constant health our poor little hearts. What a spring in a dry and thirsty land where no water is—yes, and in one where the rivers flow, and where all is fair and vernal. It turns earth into heaven, and heaven itself would be a desert without it.
“Drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” “Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.” The love of Christ passes knowledge, therefore learn, and learn, and learn, through all eternity.
Oh, what security! what a motive! what communion!