The Love of God

1 John 4:7-21; Hebrews 12:29

Seventy or eighty years ago Mr. Haldane came from Scotland to the city of Geneva, and having heard of some young men there of a sceptical turn of mind, he became much interested in them and sought an interview. This was arranged and they met together, an interpreter being present as Mr. Haldane could not speak French. Mr. Haldane began by saying, "God loves Himself supremely, and all He has done is to gratify Himself." "Translate that," said he. "I cannot," said the interpreter, "it would never do." "Translate it," said Mr. Haldane sternly, and it was translated. It was God's message to these young men, and great was its effect. Six of them were brought to God, and among these were the famous Merle D'Aubigne (Author of the History of the Reformation) and Caesar Malan used of God so greatly in Switzerland and elsewhere.

We greatly need the same truth presented by Mr. Haldane, and so much owned of God. When we love ourselves it is because we are selfish, but God in loving Himself shews His unselfishness. He is all that is perfect, He must love Himself, and He must labour unceasingly for the gratification of His own love. He must have the happiness of blessing, we may have all the happiness of being blessed. Would that we understood this better.

It may however be asked, What scripture do you give for this? The answer is that God says, "My glory will I not give to another." What is God's glory which He cannot give to another? The glory surely of being the source of all goodness and blessing. He cannot be otherwise than what He has ever been. "God is Love," and He cannot but sustain that character. This is His glory. Ours is to know Him in the love and to reflect that character.

I have felt very much of late the difficulties we have in understanding God's language. He has a language of His own because He is God, and although He uses man's words, they are so changed by His handling, so enriched and wonderful have they become that they are no longer recognizable without a new power and a new inward state. Unless there is this power of the Holy Spirit, and this spiritual state, God's language is a sealed book to us though every word in it is quite familiar to us according to the language of men. To understand God we must become like little children; however wise we are we must become fools to learn. Nothing is so fatal to the understanding of divine truth as the idea that we have some knowledge, hence the Father reveals Himself to babes, and hides Himself from the wise and prudent. He speaks to the heart instead of to the intellect.

Take, for instance, the word "love." There is no commoner word, the mass of poetry, and most of the books written are on the subject of love, yet that which God calls "love" is but little understood even by the people of God, and it is a blank to the world. So much so that the God who is love is more maligned than anyone else, and men find fault with His ways because they say they are lacking in love. Look at verse 7. This shews us that patriotism, a mother's love, and all the other human forms of love are not such as God can call "love." Love, according to God, is far higher than all these. God does not call that love which does not act through righteousness, and in which there is any selfishness or any motive save the glory of God. Man's love is greatly alloyed with selfishness, and neither righteousness nor the desire for the glory of God are necessities to that love. So different are men's thoughts to God's.

It is because of this great difficulty in the apprehension of love that there is not much about love in the Old Testament. We learn much there about righteousness, much of the mercy and loving-kindness of God, but not that God is love. In the Old Testament we only get the back parts of the glory of God. Before His face could be seen, and we could understand that God is love, it was necessary that the righteousness of God should be manifested. Love will make any sacrifice, will go to any length to gratify itself, but it can only act in the way of righteousness.

But how are we to learn love? We cannot learn what love is by what we see around us. The creation around does not manifest love; on the contrary, it is full of confusion, and those who judge by what they see are full of perplexities. There seems no clue to the mystery, and the wiser the enquirer, the more the pain, as the wise man tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is because men will judge in this way that they have such hard thoughts of God, and God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, is so misjudged. You and I would never endure it if we were misjudged as God is.

Verse 9 shews how the love of God has been manifested. God has sent His Son; and it shews too the object of this manifestation of love, that we may live by Him. Live when? Not by and by in heaven, but live now. How do we live? By the sense of love. There is no other way.

Verse 10 shews us what love is, that its source is the heart of God. Love is not indigenous in man. It comes from God to him. How do we see this? In the sending of His Son to be the propitiation for our sins: not to make* propitiation, but to be it, see 1 John 2:2. It is not a past thing, it is a present blessing, which the soul enters into. A present sense of favour owing to what God's Son is as to our sins.

{*There is only one place where to make propitiation is spoken of, i.e. Heb. 2:17, New Translation. This is priestly work for the seed of Abraham and not a work for sinners as it is so often understood to be.}

God is so anxious for us to enter into present blessing, but we have been always thinking that we shall get a blessing some day, and thus losing the present blessing, which is God's special thought. What assurance have you of future blessing, if you are not blessed now? Years ago we learnt forgiveness of sins, we found peace with God, we heard that Christ was coming again for us, and we began to look out for Him. Also we received the Holy Ghost. This is very right and very blessed, and yet if we stop here we lose the main blessing altogether and fail to give the joy to Christ which He looks for.

We must begin by being babies, and a baby is a beautiful thing; but would you have the baby remain a baby? He would very soon be a monstrosity, and this is what so often occurs with us. We started well, but soon our growth became stunted, for we did not go on to get the present blessing by which we would be matured and ripened unto perfection or full growth. This is what God wants, and for this we must be enjoying love, and by enjoying love we shall be formed in love. There is no other way.

What has God sent the Spirit here for? Not to give us what the saints had before. They anticipated the glory and all the blessings of God by faith, but present entrance into these blessings was not possible to the Old Testament saints: this present entrance is reserved for us. If we have it not, the whole point in the coming of the Holy Ghost is lost. I fear we are not sufficiently exercised as to this. May God exercise us.

What have we generally understood when we have said we were saved? Did we not mean that we were sure of heaven? But if this is all, we are not there yet. Salvation (except where it refers to the full result including the resurrection body) is something for the present, and if we are not in the possession of present power over sin, we do not know salvation. So it is with all God's blessings, they are for present enjoyment, power and use, and we have made a great mistake in relegating them to the future. This is pressed in the chapter we are considering, "As He is so are we in this world." These last words are added in order to press the present aspect of the blessing. Moreover, there is nothing in this chapter for faith, but all is for the sense and consciousness of love that God may be satisfied by making us satisfied. A satisfied heart delights God.

When it says that God sent His Son that we might live through Him, what does it mean? When we are in the enjoyment of that love, which will form the delight of heaven, then it is we live. Therefore it is that life is so little understood; a dissatisfied heart does not live, it only exists. If you would live, drink in the love of God to-day. It is all present; to-morrow will take care of itself. Our place is to bask in His love to-day.

When we relegate the blessings of God to the future we can pass muster as tolerable Christians, but when we see that they are all present then we have to own with shame how little we have pleased God the Father, how little we have honoured the Son, how little we have used the Spirit. Who is it that honours the Son? Not those who merely ascribe to Him an equal place with the Father, but those, who let the love of God flow through the heart of the Son into their hearts, whose hearts are made free by that love, and who have lost the sense of distance they once had, for they know that they are before God in all the value of the Son. They dwell in God and God in them. All this is lost to the one, who puts the blessings of God into the background of the future. Alas! we are all guilty. God grant we may not be guilty of this any more. We must enjoy the love of God, if we are to please Him. It is this sense of being loved that makes us superior to the power of the world. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world, but this refers to the Spirit as characteristic, otherwise this power will not be known.

We have often thought of heaven as a prettier kind of earth, and the description of the heavenly Jerusalem is often taken literally, but let us get into the truth of the chapter before us, dwell in God and know God dwelling in us, then we shall know what heaven is. No one will get to heaven if heaven does not get into him. Shall it be that God takes all this trouble in order to bring us into present blessing, and we not respond? Shall we have the opportunity of rejoicing the heart of the Son and be oblivious to it? There is such a golden moment for us now, all the world is slighting God's Son; how blessed are those who, during the present period, can shew the love of the Son rejoices their hearts.

The love of God is the most real of all things, yet we may deceive ourselves and think we love Him when we do not. There is much sentimentality abroad, and we have to take good heed that we are not ensnared thereby. Because of our liability to err God graciously gives us tests to try ourselves by. It is easy to ascertain how much I love God, for my love to my brother is the measure of my love to God. When we test ourselves thus, then our love seems woefully small.

We must understand, however, that this love when present is shewn as God's love is: that is, love is intensely anxious for the best blessing of those loved; the spiritual is far more important than the natural, yet this latter is not neglected. Love, however, can only act in righteousness, though it will go to any length in order to fulfil righteous claims in order that love may have its desire.

The test is a very real one when it is a question of those to whom we are not naturally attracted; those of different dispositions, different social position, and above all of a different race. Do we love those brethren, who are naturally most removed from us, and do we seek their good with all our hearts? Our Lord said, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples that ye have love one to another." Do we really show our discipleship in this manner? It is useless saying that we love the God whom we have not seen, if we do not love the brother whom we have seen.

Mind you read the scriptures aright. Often when we read, "Love one another," we say, "Why do not my brethren love me?" This is how the devil teaches us to read scripture. We are not told to get love, we are told to love. Love where we are loved, and love where we are hated. To love always and in all circumstances, never mind whether others love us or not. Many read scripture backwards. When they read "Give" they say, "Oh! that is very nice, who is going to give to me?" Do you think such people know the love of God, or get any good from scripture? Impossible. One professor said to me, "I ask because I want to give my brethren an opportunity to fulfil Matt. 5:42." I said, "Be consistent then, go about smiting your brethren, suing at the law, and forcing them to come along at your bidding in order to give them the opportunity of fulfilling the three previous verses." Alas! let us see to it that when we read, "Love ye," we do love, and when we read, "Give ye," we give, and so with everything. The one who yields all gets all; the one who keeps all, loses.

Also do not forget 1 John 5:2-3. Love must be shewn according to the commandments of God. But what are the commandments? Are they the ten? Surely not. They are not, Do this, and do not do that. To get these commandments we must be formed in love. Then we shall understand, not otherwise. What is love? To walk after His commandments. But what are His commandments? To love one another, see 1 John 3:23 and 2 John 5, 6. Clever people will tell us that this is not logical, it is merely reasoning in a circle. Quite true, and an uncommonly good circle it is for those who understand it, for the rest it is necessarily utter foolishness. Explain as much as you like and the carnal will not understand, because these things are only known experimentally: to the poor in spirit it is all simple and easy.

I also read Heb. 12:29. It seems very different to say, "Our God is a consuming fire" in contrast to "God is love," but really these statements go together. Our God is a consuming fire because He is love, because there must be an intense action both preservative of the good and hostile to the evil. Can God be indifferent to that which would hinder His love being known? Impossible. How does the mother feel towards the snake, which would bite her child? Love is a fire which many waters cannot quench, and he who understands the jealousy of love will be thankful that God is a consuming fire. He will understand it. Our jealousy is the result of selfishness, but God's jealousy is the result of absolute unselfishness. If we know the love of God, we are thankful for every attribute of His. If not, even His kindness fills us with dread.

When Jacob was at Bethel God appears to him in a vision and shews Jacob that he is the object of God's tenderest care. Does Jacob rejoice in this? No, he says, "How dreadful is this place." This shews he did not know God, and was not at home with Him. How different was the case with Abraham, the Friend of God.

How is it with us? To have received innumerable benefits from God is one thing, to know Him, to be at home with Him, to bask in His love is another thing. Have you ever said with a saint of old who had not a tithe of the light you have?
"To Thee, Lord, my heart unfoldeth,
   As the rose to the golden sun —
 To Thee, Lord, mine arms are clinging
   The eternal joy begun."

When you know this you will not need to ask, as so many here are doing, What is this life eternal? You will have it, and will not need to ask What is it? Its joy will fill your soul, and you will wonder how it was you missed it before, for now you cannot exist without it.