1. The Love of God (John 3:16)
The Scriptures speak to us of the love of God, of the love of the Father, of the love of the Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the love of the brethren; and though all this love is divine, and not the affection which is natural to the creature, nevertheless it is the same love that we find in the man who is born of God as that which is in the Persons of the Godhead; for he is, by virtue of this heavenly birth, a partaker of the divine nature. But the direction this love is described as taking in each of these divine Persons and in the brethren is very different. Neither the Father nor the Son are said to love the world, but God is; neither is the Father said to love the church, but Christ is. And all this is full of interest and instruction. I would therefore, by the help of the Holy Spirit, attempt to point out to the reader the way in which the Scriptures present this love in connection with all in whom it is said to be active. Let us first examine what is said as to THE LOVE OF GOD.
In John 3:16 we get this love presented in all its greatness and universality. It is a love that no man had hitherto been called to contemplate in such fullness, power, and blessing. It is a love that rises above every barrier thrown up to stem its invincible current. It is a love that no angel knew, and a love that no creature could declare. By an angel the intervention of God for the deliverance of the oppressed sons of Jacob could take place, and by angelic tongue could the duty of man to love God be declared; from out of the midst of devouring fire, and from blackness and darkness, could angelic voice utter the claims of God; but to bring the love of God to man, so that we might be able to say, “We have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love” (1 John 4:16), was beyond the power of the highest created intelligence.
The fail and ruin of the head of the human race furnished the blessed God with an opportunity of retiring upon the counsels of His eternal love, which involved new relationships for man, and a new life by which these new relationships could be enjoyed; a life that was no more in Adam innocent than in Adam guilty: eternal life, the life that is in the Son of God, a life that could never be defiled by sin, and that could never come under the power of death.
But if men were to possess this life, and if they were to stand in these new and eternal relationships with God, it was necessary that satisfaction should be rendered to God for the dishonour done to Him by sin in this evil world, it was necessary that our sins, and the evil and corrupt nature that produced these sins, should be met by the unsparing judgment of a holy and righteous God. It was necessary that One should give Himself for us, should stand in our room and stead, should bear our blame, suffer the consequences of sin by being made sin, in order that the majesty, authority, and nature of God might be vindicated and glorified, for apart from the accomplishment of this no way of salvation could be opened up for guilty man.
Who was there in all the universe of God whose love for our guilty race was strong enough to induce him to intervene on our behalf? and who, even supposing the love existed, had the ability to take up the work of our deliverance? Not certainly any of the creatures of God, for, for them to have manifested compassion towards us, would have been treason against their Creator and Governor; but even had they desired, and had it been right and agreeable to God that they should so desire, they had not the ability to accomplish anything.
No one could help us but the One against whom we had sinned, and it took Him to put forth all His power to bring about our deliverance. Nothing less than the death of His only begotten Son could enable Him righteously to take the place of a Saviour toward guilty man.
What mere creature could undertake such a work as that of redemption? Who could stand in the presence of incensed Deity, and bear the brunt of wrath’s terrific storm broken loose against sin? Who could answer to God for the rebellion of His apostate creature, and stand in the breach when He was giving expression to His righteous judgment and holy abhorrence of that of which the devil was the author and man the willing slave? No mere creature could do this. None but the incarnate Son could enter into this awful question with God.
But why not let man perish for ever? He preferred the service of sin, the darkness of alienation from God, the rule of the devil, to any renewal of relationships or acquaintance with God. Why not take hold of the earth, and shake the apostate race out of its corrupt lap into the lake of fire, and leave him thus to the eternal consequences of his mad rebellion against his Maker? Why trouble any more about such a good-for-nothing creature? Why, for no other reason than that it had pleased God to set His heart upon man. He was not constrained to intervene on behalf of His creature by any good that He saw in that creature, nor by any object external to Himself, but just because it was His pleasure to take up such a sinner and make him a vessel of His praise.
The sinful and utterly lost condition of man put God to the test in a way in which He had never before been tested, and in a way in which He never can be tested again. If God loved man, the state in which man was as a rebel sinner put His love to a test that no one, had anything been known about it, would have believed love capable of bearing. But that love proved itself to be well able to answer to the demand made upon it, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
That love has opened up a way of salvation for the lost, and the report of that salvation, and where all are to find it, is proclaimed world-wide. God would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth; and the Mediator, whose death was the witness of that love, gave Himself a ransom for all, and all are called by the gospel to make haste and avail themselves of that salvation while the day of salvation lasts.
In the heart of the believer that love is shed abroad by the Holy Ghost who is given to us (Rom. 5:5). We are made conscious that it is our present portion. To the way in which it has come to light the Holy Spirit ever directs our attention, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly;” and in contrast to the greatest exhibition of human love, which has occasionally caused men to lay down their lives on behalf of those who had shown them kindness, the love of God was expressed to us in the death of Christ when we were yet sinners.
In the 1st Epistle of John this love of God is viewed in connection with a circle narrower than the whole world. In the Gospel its aspect is universal, but in the Epistle it is confined to the family of God. We read in 1 John 4, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us,” and “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us;” and in chapter 3, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us.” But in the Epistle, as in the Gospel, whether it be to us, or to the world, the death of Christ is that in which it has been declared.
We get another beautiful reference to this love in Ephesians 2. There we are contemplated as dead in sins. Not a movement of our hearts Godward. We are said, as Gentiles, to have been “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” Such was our state as sinners of the Gentiles. Also, ruled by the prince of the power of the air, fulfilling the desires of flesh and mind, and by nature children of wrath, everything that was loathsome and abominable to God.
This is what we were under His eye, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ.” What a marvellous intervention of the power of the living God, moved by the wonderful love of His heart! And not only has He quickened us, but quickened us in the life of Christ; and also raised us up and made us sit in Him in the heavenlies; and that, too, in order that He might, in the ages to come, show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
From this love there is no separation. Once it is believed—once it gets into the heart in the power of the Spirit—it is there for ever. The Apostle says, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). In the first verse of this chapter we are in Christ, and in the last verse the love of God is there, so that where the love of God has got its eternal resting-place, we have got ours through grace; therefore, until Christ can be separated from that love we never can be; and as nothing can separate Him from it, nothing can separate us.
It is this love which casts out all fear from our hearts, and gives us boldness for the day of judgment. We are loved with the love of which Christ is the Object—“as He is, so are we in this world;” and we know that that love will never be thoroughly satisfied until it has us, like Himself, in glory. It is that love which has predestinated us to be conformed to His image; therefore, in the day of judgment we shall be like the Judge, our very bodies fashioned like His; ourselves not the subjects of judgment, though our works shall be. Then we shall receive loss or gain for all that we have done upon earth. Where we have been faithful we shall be rewarded, and where we have been unfaithful we shall suffer loss; but before ever we appear there we shall have been already glorified.
I turn to another passage of Scripture, “Ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 20-21). In these days in which evil abounds, such as is depicted in this short Epistle, the tendency is to be unduly occupied with it, and the soul is in danger of coming under the power of it. Here is the antidote to all that. The natural and healthful element of the child of God is this love declared in the gift of Jesus; and in this love, in the worst days of the history of the church, it is our privilege to keep ourselves, and we are exhorted so to do.
May the Lord Himself direct our hearts into the love of God.
2. The Love of the Father
If we examine the way in which the Father’s love is presented in Scripture we shall not find the thought of sovereignty connected with it as we find connected with the love of God; nor, indeed, shall we always find it to be set upon the same objects. God is said to have loved the world, the Father never. The Father has a world of His own outside of which His affections are not said to travel. It is a world, or sphere, or order of things, not yet brought to light; but it exists in His counsels, and is of Himself. This present world is not of Him. All that is in the world is lust and pride, and it is not of the Father, but is of the world (1 John 2:15-16). With the love of the Father we find the thought of complacency, delight, satisfaction. His love is confined to things which are grateful to His nature. The Son is said to have been the Object of the Father’s love before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). And when upon earth, as He was about to take the place of public testimony for God, the Father’s voice is heard declaring His delight in Him. This voice from heaven was a witness of the pleasure the Father took in the first thirty years of the Son’s sojourn here below. Again, on the mount of transfiguration, we are privileged to hear the same powerful testimony rendered by the Father to the place the Son had in His blessed affections.
Jesus Himself says, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35). The Son had the love and confidence of the heart of the Father. The Father could confidently put everything into the hand of the Son, knowing that everything would be faithfully held for His glory. Again, He says, “The Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that Himself does” (John 5:20). And “what things soever He does, these also does the Son likewise” (v. 19). In this way the Father came to light in the Son, and in Him He was glorified. How dear the Son was to the heart of the Father no creature mind shall ever be able to understand.
In John 10:17 we read, “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again.” His obedience and His love to the Father carried Him down to death, even the death of the cross; and there was laid a firm foundation upon which could be established the eternal counsels of the Father; and having laid in the blood of His cross this firm foundation, He in resurrection gives effect to those counsels to the glory of the Father. He says: “Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” (chap. 17:1). And because of this wholehearted devotedness to His glory, the Father’s heart goes out to that blessed Son of His in infinite love.
There is nothing of the nature of sovereignty or grace in all this, for here there is a reason for the love of the Father lying outside of Himself; a reason existing in the Object of that love; the excellence of His person, and the obedience which comes to light in His lowly life on earth, calling forth that love as One perfectly worthy of it, however infinite it be. And how readily the Father responds to the claims of the One who presented Him with such a motive for love. He says, “Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He has poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). And “wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). The blessedness and excellence of the Son is beyond all creature thought, and indeed it is a joy to us that it is so; nevertheless, it is also a joy to us that there is One who fully estimates His infinite worth: it is not, blessed be God, unknown.
But we also are objects of the love of the Father. Jesus says, “The Father Himself loves you.” It is not merely that we are called to contemplate the love which the Father has to the Son, though this would be an unspeakable privilege; but we are to know ourselves as objects of that love. But even as regards us this love is not presented in its sovereign character. The Lord gives a reason for this love being lavished upon us, though surely we have no claim to the least of His favours. And yet if the Father loves us there is a reason why, “The Father Himself loves you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God” (John 16:27). There is something in us which draws out the Father’s love to us. It is something which is of the Father Himself, and which He implanted there. It is not what is natural to man at all, and it was not natural to us. The natural man sees no beauty in Jesus. By the natural man He is always despised and rejected; but “they shall be all taught of God,” and “every one therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto Me” (John 6:4). This affection that is in our hearts for Jesus has been begotten by the teaching of the Father, and to His heart it is exceedingly precious. In this world, that is hostile to the Son, the Father finds us lovers of Jesus, and by this, if I may so speak, the heart of the Father is profoundly affected.
Feeble fellow-believer, you love Jesus. Perhaps you say your love is so weak, and your ways are often so wilful and crooked that you hesitate to speak of your love for Jesus. You feel He is worthy of so much, and you render to Him so little. Yet you do love Him. Possibly you wonder why every one does not love Him, for, as regards yourself, you feel you must love, reverence, and confess Him, even if by doing so you stirred up the wrath of the whole world against you. Well, is this nothing to the Father? Can He be regardless as to the attitude assumed by you toward the Son of His love? Impossible.
God loved you when there was nothing lovable about you. He loved you because of what was in Himself. But the Father loves you because of what is in you. He has found something in you in which His heart has unbounded delight. What is it? Nothing but the little spark of love to His Son, which He has kindled there for Himself. Here, where His Son has suffered every ignominy that the profligate heart of man could invent, you are found on His side, lifting up a feeble testimony in His favour, and the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Him, and have believed that He came out from God. There is nothing so precious to the heart of the Father upon earth as that little spark of love to Christ which has been kindled by Himself in the souls of His saints. Where this is not, darkness and death reign. And the Father loves to cherish this little vital spark, and by the power of the Holy Spirit fan it into a mighty flame. Satan would seek to quench it, and upon it the world has a baneful influence; but “we love Him because He first loved us,” and the better we know His love, the more shall we love Him; and if we love Him we will show this love by keeping His commandments, and treasuring His word in our hearts; and if we do this Jesus says we shall be loved of the Father, and both Father and Son will make their abode with us (John 14:23).
We read these things in the Holy Scriptures, and we treasure them as the sayings of Jesus, but what do we know about them experimentally? Can the reader say, “Ah, I know what that means. I know what it is to have the Father and the Son dwelling with me. I know something of the joy that springs from having these divine Persons as my honoured guests.”
But if we find that we have not embraced this unspeakable privilege, and if we have to confess that we know, in an experimental way, little or nothing about it, are we to continue in this condition of spiritual destitution? Are these pearl gates which are even now swung open that we may enter into the joys of the Father’s house, before we leave this scene of lawlessness, darkness, and death, to remain unused by us as though we had no right of entrance, or as though they were guarded by cherubim and a flaming sword? Surely not.
Worldliness increases on every hand. Almost every day brings to light some apparently spiritual Samson falling under its deadly influence. The atoning death of Christ is scoffed at, and to His words those who profess His name are becoming stone deaf. His saints who have received much light boast of it as an intellectual attainment, and attempt to turn the edge of the Spirit’s sword against Christ’s members. And all this has come to pass because we have not kept the commandments of Jesus, treasured His word, and been more in company with the Father and the Son. The Lord says, speaking of the religious enemies of the gospel, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor Me” (John 16:2-3). This is what is lacking today, the knowledge of the Father and the Son. I do not mean to infer that any true believer is without this knowledge, but what I do mean is this, I fear we have not these divine Persons as our continual guests. We know forgiveness, and, like Martha, we may be cumbered about much service; but what do we know about the unutterable sweetness of entertaining in the secret of our own souls the Father and the Son?
Oh, how infinitely sweet it is to sit down alone, or to walk in solitude apart from every other human being, and let the Father and the Son draw near to us, as Jesus did to the two sorrowing disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, that we may breathe for a little moment the very atmosphere of heaven. What a health resort we shall find this to be.
And all this remains for us today as truly as ever. Everything may have become corrupted ecclesiastically. That house which was intended for a house of prayer may have become a den of thieves, but all these things remain for the individual as certainly as though there was no failure at all. The writings of John are intensely individual, and the privileges opened out to us in them are not dependent upon the faithfulness of the Christian company. If no other in the whole world enjoyed these things I may. Today they are the portion of the overcomer. And there is much to overcome, but there is infinitely more to be entered into and enjoyed.
How unspeakably sweet it is to go through this world with the sense of the Father’s love keeping the heart. If the reader does not enjoy it, then I would entreat him to go in for it, for it is his privilege as a child of God. May both writer and reader know it better.
3. The Love of Christ
This love is both upward and downward—love to the Father and to those given to Him of the Father. In speaking of love upward I do not desire the reader to come to the conclusion that Jesus was ever less than “God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5), but in becoming a man He took a place less than God, so that He could say, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28); and therefore I speak of His love to the Father as having an upward aspect, as His love to us is love to those beneath Him.
Then His love to the Father had no limit, nor was it affected in its even flow by anything external to it. To Him the Father was supreme, and compared with Him nothing else was of any account. His life, His happiness for time and eternity, He placed at the disposal of the Father. Be the prospect before His soul a throne of glory, or be it a cross of shame, the will of the Father makes either acceptable to Him (Matt. 11:26). He was born King of the Jews, and had title to the throne of His father David; but with lowly and subject heart He turned from the glamour of royalty and took His weary way to Golgotha’s woes, saying, “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:31).
But that the even flow of the love of His heart to His own is unaffected by external influences cannot rightly be said; for His love to those who are His is subject to the will of the Father. They were the Father’s gift to Him, and as such He receives them, and as such appreciates them. “Thine they were,” He says, “and Thou gavest them Me” (John 17:6). And again He says, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). He was here as sent by the Father, not to do His own will but the will of Him who sent Him; and as to those who were to be His companions in the day of His glory, He leaves the choice of such to Him whose servant He had become. Having taken the place of Man, in nothing does He speak of Himself as a free agent. His love to the Father was, as I have intimated, boundless; and its mighty current was unaffected by anything that lay in the channel which had been digged for it by the will of Him whom He designated “Lord of heaven and earth.”
But no one that the Father drew to Him was unacceptable to Him. To Him such were the excellent of the earth, “in whom,” He says, “is all my delight” (Ps. 16:3). In the estimation of the world they were a base and beggarly lot, and ill-fitted for companionship with One who claimed the throne of the world. But for all that they were the nobility of heaven, princes of the blood royal, born from above, and children of God. And as such He recognized them. They had heard and learned of the Father, and of Him were they drawn to Jesus, and His delight was in them.
But also they were the choice of Jesus. Such is the mystery of divine persons. Of the Father were they given to Him out of the world, but yet He can say, “I have chosen you” (John 15:16). Mending their fishing nets, sitting at the receipt of custom, following the Baptist, He found them; recognized in them the subjects of divine counsel; beneath their lowly exterior detected the heavenly characteristics that betrayed their royal lineage; loved them, called them after Him, and at the end, in the greatness of His love, laid down His life for them.
We have seen that the love of God is universal. The Father is said to love the Son and those who have affection for Him. Of the love of Christ the Father is the supreme object, but those also who are given Him of the Father are loved by Him with a love surpassing knowledge, a love that found its full expression in that in which also His love to the Father was expressed—His death upon the cross.
It was this love of Christ that constrained the apostles in the preaching of the gospel. Paul says, “The love of Christ constrains us” (2 Cor. 5:14). The whole world lay under the judgment of death, and under this judgment Christ came, in order that He might be righteously able to quicken some of them in His own life, so that they might live to Him who died for them and rose again. He wanted to surround Himself with men taken out of death, who would live to Him in the affections of their hearts. To this end He gave Himself a ransom for all. He went down into that under which all men lay, and thus expressed His love in order that that love might take effect in the hearts of those who came under His life-giving power, and that they might love Him and thus live to Him.
But Paul makes this love of Christ intensely individual when he says, “The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). And this every one of His own is entitled to take home to himself. And what a privilege it is to be allowed to take hold of the fathomless love of such a Saviour and direct it all into one’s own heart! And it most surely is the privilege of every one of His own, for the Apostle of the Gentiles, however great a servant he was, had no greater claim on the love of Christ than had the most insignificant saint upon the face of the earth. Therefore both reader and writer may look up to Him who sits upon His Father’s throne, supreme in the universe of God, and say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
Then we are told that “having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Nothing could quench that love. There was everything to test it, everything to drive it back into the heart that gave it birth. Amongst His twelve disciples there was desertion, denial, treachery. There was the dark chalice of bitter death to be drunk; there was the malice of men, the power of Satan, the forsaking of God; and all this must be met and endured if He is to have these few feeble followers with Him in the glory. Will His love bear such a strain as this? Will He really go to the cross for them? Will He stand in their room and stead in the presence of a righteous and holy God? Yes, He will do all this, for “having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
“He gave Himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4). Did He not know what this involved? Had He underestimated the weight of that awful judgment that must be poured out mercilessly upon the One made sin? Was He unaware that it meant being made a curse? Had He overlooked the abandonment of God? He knew everything. He was well aware of all that was to be enacted at Golgotha. He neither overlooked nor underestimated anything. But at all cost He would do the will of the Father, and at all cost He would ransom our souls from the power of death. Therefore, in love beyond all human thought, He gave Himself for our sins.
He is also said to have loved the church, and given Himself for it (Eph. 5:25). The church is, in a peculiar way, the object of the love of Christ. It is not said to be the object of the love of God, though it is called His church. But neither is Christ said to love the world, though it was in His death that the love of God to the world came to light. But the church is the bride of Christ. It is the Eve of the last Adam. He loves it, gave Himself for it, sanctifies it, and will present it to Himself glorious. He devotes Himself to its blessing. In His death there was the most complete surrender of all that He was on behalf of His church. He loves us in the way in which a man loves his own flesh: “No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church.” How could we think otherwise seeing that He gave Himself for it.
And this love of Christ surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19). Even in redeemed creation, that wonderful expanse in which God glorifies Himself, and which shall be illuminated with His glory; that universe of blessing, the Father’s world, the final result of the accomplishing of His eternal purposes, as we look abroad upon its dazzling brightness and wealth of unspeakable and everlasting felicity, the well-known and perfectly enjoyed love of Christ will be the stay and strength of our enraptured hearts. The position given to us at the centre of that “breadth, and length, and depth, and height,” might well bewilder our poor creature minds, were it not that we find the love of Christ a perfect stay and support, so that we are able, with blessed composure and worshipping hearts, to look abroad upon the magnificent spectacle of a universe ablaze with the glory of the living Father, and of God resting in His love. May our souls be ever in the sweet enjoyment of “the love of Christ, which passes knowledge.”
From this love we may well say, “Who shall separate us?” (Rom. 8:35). He has died for us, and in this His love has come to light in all its power. “Greater love,” He has said, “has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He has made us His friends, and, oh, how friendly has He proved Himself to be! This love can never be fully known, but neither can it ever be forgotten by those who have tasted its sweetness upon earth. Daily do we now tell Him of our appreciation of His matchless love, but what are all our feeble praises today when compared with that day in which we shall see Him face to face, and, bowed at his feet, shall pour out the adoration of hearts which for all eternity shall overflow with songs and thanksgiving!
But He not only died for us, He is risen again. He has broken the power of death. He is also at the right hand of God. He is in the place of power and authority. He is supreme in the universe. He is Lord of all. And He makes intercession for us. His death, which was the witness of His love, has not exhausted His love. The same love dwells in His heart now that He is risen. And in the power of that love He makes intercession for us. The ephod of the high priest was in a very special way the priestly garment, and to it the breastplate, upon which was engraved the names of the twelve tribes, were engraved. The breastplate was never to be loosed from the ephod (Ex. 28:28). Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, who is our great Priest before the face of God. Tribulation may overtake us, and it surely will, for He has said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation;” distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, may be our portion here, but “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
What a reality His love is! How changeless! How eternal! How well He has proved it! His love to the Father has been by that Father fully appreciated. All the delight of the Father is in Him. But what about our appreciation of that love, love that spread upon death’s dark vale its sweetest odours, and even lit up death’s domain with its glory? How can we for a moment forget it? How can we ever cease praising it? May our hearts continue ever in the deep enjoyment of it.
4. The Love of the Brethren
The love of the saints to one another is no less divine than is that of the Father and the Son. This love is one of the great distinguishing marks of the children of God. Of this family there are two characteristics which unfailingly declare their lineage, and these are righteousness and love. As lawlessness and hatred of the brethren mark the children of the devil, so do righteousness and love of the brethren mark the children of God. In 1 John 2:29 we read, “Every one that does righteousness is born of Him;” and in chapter 3:12 we read, “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” Then we have in chapter 4:7, “Love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God.”
The ability to take the place of children of God is only the portion of the saints of this dispensation. We have this place by the Father’s call (1 John 3:1), we have it as a right given to us by Christ (John 1:12), and we have it in the witness of the Spirit (Rom. 8:16). But “born of God” itself is not dispensational. It was true from the commencement of the activities of the grace of God in this fallen world, and for an example of one born of God the Apostle goes back to Abel; his works were righteous, and “Every one that does righteousness is born of Him.” if we find a man practising righteousness or loving the brethren we know that that man is born of God. He is not a mere child of Adam, nor is he of the devil, but of God. Every one brings forth after his kind, whether it be the devil, fallen man, or the blessed God Himself.
It is of the utmost importance to see that these characteristics are the outcome of the divine nature, the nature of the children of God. They are not qualities which can be put on or imitated by the mere child of Adam. Righteousness here is not what the world calls honesty, which is only measured by men’s dealings with one another. This may be rightly enough called righteousness, but it is not that winch is spoken of here. Abel’s righteousness is seen in his taking his rightful place in the presence of God. In himself he is nothing but a guilty sinner, but this he most fully admits, and he approaches God in the way opened up to him in boundless grace. It is in a man’s dealings with God more than in his dealings with men that his righteousness or lawlessness becomes apparent.
Nor is love mere natural affection, a thing found sometimes stronger than death amongst men; and not only amongst men, but even amongst the lower orders of creation. As originally formed, man was set in intelligent relationship with God, and in an unfallen state his affections would have happily flowed in the channels dug for them in the wisdom and goodness of his Creator; but as fallen they have burst all bounds, and at the direction of corrupt and lawless flesh, they wander where they will regardless of the consequences. This shows man to be at the level of the irresponsible beast of the field, if indeed not at a lower level.
The notion of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is not new, but lately it has been brought into more prominence than heretofore; and indeed it might truthfully be said that the great mass of professing Christians are fighting their battles under this banner. But such a notion has no place in the Word of God. No one is a child of God apart from the new birth. This is hinted at, perhaps I had better say figuratively declared, in the Old Testament; and the Lord seems to infer that Nicodemus should have known it. He says, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And when the unbelieving mind of the Pharisee raises questions regarding this mysterious operation of the Spirit of God, Jesus says, “Art thou a teacher of Israel, and knowest not these things?” Ezekiel had said, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:25-26). It is to such words as these the Lord evidently refers when He says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
In the past dispensation man was under probation, and while this was so it would not have been consistent to have plainly declared his hopelessly lost condition, which the reference to new birth does; because if man is so hopelessly lost that he must be born again, when this verdict is given his trial must be concluded. Therefore, while it was always necessary from the fall, if man was to be in right relationship with God, while his trial was running its course it was only hinted at; but now that the resources of God put forth to influence the flesh in right ways have been exhausted, the plain truth as to the incorrigible wickedness of the flesh is declared, and the necessity of new birth is frankly insisted upon.
This new birth is produced by the Word of God, which is incorruptible, living, and abiding. On earth everything perishes but the Word of God. The Jew is grass, the Gentile is grass—all flesh is grass, and the glory of man the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower of it passes away. What, then, remains? “The Word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isa. 40). This Word has been brought to us in the gospel (1 Peter 2:5), and by it the believer is born again. His life and nature are divine.
Therefore the one born of God does not practise sin but righteousness. Had he nothing but the divine nature he would be utterly incapable of sinning, for that nature cannot sin. But as long as be is in this world he has also the old nature of the flesh, and it can do nothing but sin, and in this nature he is liable to act, and will do so if he be not watchful. When we are glorified there will be no more need for the vigilance that is now necessary. We will then be like Christ, and free from the presence of the flesh, and failure will be a thing of the past.
But the One who is begotten of God loves Him that begat. We love the Father and the Son, and we love the brethren. It is natural for us to do so. That which the law, by all its threatenings, could not get from the mere child of Adam, God has gotten by His work of grace in our hearts. The law demanded love from man, but never got it. But God has got it by the revelation of His great love to us in the death of His only begotten Son: “We love Him because He first loved us.” It is not because we are compelled to do it by threatenings of wrath. This never produced love in any human heart. Terror it did produce, but not love. Love begets love where that love is appreciated; and when the love of God, as it has been brought to light in the death of Jesus, is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us, we love Him.
It may be that we feel our love so feeble that we are almost ashamed to say anything about it at all. This may be all right, for when compared with the infinite love of God, feeble indeed it must ever appear. Still, we love Him, if we are born of Him; and well He knows it, for He searches the heart and knows all that is there. And we also know it, however we may bewail its feebleness. Peter could appeal to the omniscience of the Lord at a time when his actions were sufficient to raise doubts as to the reality of his affection for Christ in the minds of his brethren. He says, “Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee” (John 21:17). It is well to have to do with One who knows the most secret thoughts of the heart. He knows us even better than we know ourselves, and this is a great comfort. He has not to wait until we make known to Him our inmost thoughts. He knows what is there, for every bit of good that is there is there by the working of His fathomless grace. And it is there even before we are aware of it ourselves. It is a great surprise to all of us when we first come to the consciousness of our readiness to stand in the face of the whole hostile world in confession of Christ. Those born of God may seem to the eyes of the world either too contemptible to be taken seriously, or, like a few noxious weeds, to be taken up and given to the flame; and they, if they think of themselves at all, will only regard themselves as cumberers of the ground; but the enjoyment of the favour of God gives them a sense of superiority above all the power and glory of the world.
The love of the children of God is self-sacrificing. We are told we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren; that is to say, all the children of God should lay down their lives for one another. The One in whom that love has been expressed laid down His life for us; therefore we should lay down our lives for one another. It is the love of God that is in the hearts of His children, and that love came to light in the death of Christ; and if God so loved us, we are told, we also should love one another. We would be most likely to say, we should love Him; but we never find love to God demanded in Christianity. Under law God says, “Thou shalt love Me;” and, “Ye are cursed if ye do not.” But under grace God says, “I love you, believe it and live.”
The test of that love being in us is our love to the children of God. We might say that we love God, but it is that which is of God in the world that tests us; and if we love not our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen? (1 John 4:20). We may go about looking for love from our brethren, and murmuring because we do not seem to get as much of it as we would desire, but this is a sad state to be in, and manifests a heart not in the enjoyment of the love of God. Love is the very life of the children of God, and is the spring and fountain of all their activities. It is the new commandment. It was the thing that was true in Jesus when He was upon earth, and is now true in His own in the power of the Spirit (1 John 2:8).
In this we are to be imitators of God, and walk in love as Christ also has loved us, and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. As His children we are to come out in His moral characteristics, and become known to be the disciples of Jesus, as He says, “By this shall all men know that ye are disciples of Mine, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). No teacher but Himself ever taught this, hence those who love one another are known in this world as His disciples.
How far above the plotting and working of the enemy God has shown Himself to be. Satan, no doubt, considered he had accomplished something that would act as an eternal vexation to the Creator, when he overthrew the creature in transgression, who was made in His image and likeness. But he little knew the wisdom and might of Him whose implacable foe he had become. That evil has been made the occasion of Satan’s everlasting downfall, and of infinite and eternal glory to God. Through infinite grace the fallen creature has been brought to know the Creator in His nature, and to stand before Him in the relationship of son. Earth has been lost, but heaven has been gained, and all the glory belongs to God; and blessed for ever be His name, we can say GOD IS LOVE. May we be kept in that love, and may we grow in the divine nature, and be better able to imitate Him whose name is LOVE. Nothing but love is of any value under the sun, but it must be divine love, the love of God, the love of the Father, the love of the Son, and the love of the brethren. Without this nature, which in us is the result of new birth, all else is worthless.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love,
I am become as sounding brass,
Or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy,
And understand all mysteries,
And all knowledge;
And though I have all faith.
So that I could remove mountains, and have not love,
I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,
And though I give my body to be burned, and have not love,
It profits me nothing.
vaunts not itself, is not puffed up,
doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeks not her own,
is not easily provoked,
thinks no evil,
rejoices not in iniquity,
rejoices in the truth,
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things,
Now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is LOVE (1 Cor. 13).