“Beloved let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God and knoweth God. He that loves not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
There is no subject with which we occupy ourselves when we are together so much as love. When we approach God, we have to speak to Him continually about His love. If we seek to encourage one another in the knowledge of God, we have to speak of love, because God is love. We have no such thought of God naturally. We think, like the wicked servant, that He is hard and unkind. That was the thought we had in our unconverted days. What an awakening it is to our souls when we learn that God is love, when our eves have been opened, and we have been turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, when the Holy Spirit has shed abroad in our hearts the love of God! What a marvellous light it is, the light of the perfect revelation of God by the Holy Spirit that He has given to us! We are partakers of the divine nature, because we love Him. The love that first loved us has got a response in our hearts. The Lord says, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love to one another.” Why? Because there never was any leader amongst men who taught love but Himself. There is no system of religion but Christianity which has love for its very life. No one lives to God who does not love Him.
Peter says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren.” That is the way it works out. The practical effect is love to the children of God. See, says the Apostle “that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” He desires that we might be more in the enjoyment of that love, and that we might be able to express that love to one another.
Paul says, “Be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). How is it that he can speak to us in that way? Because in the second chapter of the epistle we are said to be quickened with the life that is in God. There is no life there anywhere but in God. “God who is rich in mercy for His great love wherewith He has loved us” has stepped into the realm of death, and “has quickened us together with Christ.” Hence we are to be imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us.
John speaks a great deal about love. What was true in the Gospel in Christ is now true in the saints, as presented in the Epistle. He says, “He that says he abideth in Him, ought himself to walk even as He walked.” How did He walk? He walked in love. Then he says, “Brethren, I write no new commandment, but an old commandment, which ye have heard from the beginning.” Christ never altered the character of His teaching. He taught the same thing from the beginning to the end, and He is teaching the same thing today, so that we are asked to let that abide in us which we have heard from the beginning. The old commandment was that we should love one another. He says he does not write a new commandment and again he says he does write a new commandment. How is that explained? It is the new commandment when you come to the epistle. It is the old commandment in the Gospel, because in the Gospel it is only found in Christ; in the epistle it is found in us.
John would encourage us. He says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.” All natural affections are of God. Natural love is of God, and in spite of the fall it has been preserved in the hearts of human beings, otherwise the world could not exist. But when he says, “love is of God,” he meant it is His nature. It is divine love which has been manifested, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, so that we love Him. Our love to Him, and to one another, is only just the faint springing up of that love that has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit of God. Love is of God, and he that loves has God’s nature. What does that mean? He is born of God. More than that. He knows God. We know men. We have no difficulty about that, because we are men, and we know what men are. We do not know what angels are, fallen or unfallen. We could not give any account of them. If we wanted to approach an angel, or get a favour from him, we should not know how to address him. We should not know how to affect him at all. We know how to approach men, and we know how to approach God. We know God. He that loves is born of God. God is his Father. He is a child of God. God knows us perfectly, He knows all those that are His. He knows the one that loves, but the one that loves knows God. What a wonderful thing that we in the midst of this world of darkness, can say, “We know God.” Not only do we know Him, but we know Him a very great deal better than we know ourselves. We sometimes think we know ourselves very well, but after all, most of us who are converted to God would have to say, “We never conceived the depths of evil that lay in the flesh as we do now that we have been brought to the knowledge of God.” You cannot tell so well how things are in the darkness as you can in the light. We are brought out of darkness into God’s marvellous light, and there we see things as they really are. I say our knowledge of God is greater than our knowledge of ourselves. It is only as we know God that we do know ourselves. It is a wonderful thing, but it could not be otherwise that our knowledge of God is always in advance of our knowledge of ourselves.
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”
It is not a mere sentiment we have in our hearts. It is not anything we have conceived ourselves, some idea that may be baseless. It has had its most perfect manifestation. Naturally, we should put verse 10 before verse 9, and supposing one was preaching the gospel of the grace of God, it might be right to do so. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” When we are awakened to a knowledge of our sinfulness, it is that we want removing. We want our sins forgiven, but John, speaking of what divine life really consists in—because love is the nature of the life—says, “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” It was not merely that He had compassion on our lost and ruined condition, but it is rather that God might have something out of us. We must be brought to God. He must have us. He must possess us, not only that He might have His own pleasure in meeting our deep need, but that we might live to Him. He would possess us in that way, because if He has got our affections He has got us. If you get a man’s affections, you will get the man. If you get God’s affections you get God, and if God gets hold of your affections, He gets hold of you. He sent His Son into the world that we might live through Him, and live to Him in a new life, in the life of Christ, who lived perfectly for Him. “In Him was life.” The Jews thought it was in the law, and it would have been there for them, if they had been able to fulfil their obligations, but they were not, and instead of finding life in the law, they found death. Here is One in whom life is. They had thought it was found in the Scriptures, as the Lord says, but He tells them, “They testify of Me.” The Scriptures pointed to Him as the One in whom life is. “But you will not come to Me, that you might have life,” He had to say to them. In Him was life. The tree of life was here in this world when Jesus was here. God sent Him into the world that we might live through Him. There was the necessity of His death, but I am only stating what He was when He was here, irrespective of His death. He was the One in whom life was. As to whether it was available for men or not apart from His death, that is a different matter, but it was in Him. So He says in John 6, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” He was the bread of God that came into the world, that a man might eat thereof and not die. We must begin by the appropriation of His death. He had to die in order that we might be able to appropriate Him, that He might be made available for us, but the object of God in sending Him into the world was that He might possess us wholly for Himself. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” We do love Him now, but that is not where we are to see and know what love is. We are not to look at the saints to see love. We are to look at God. There you have the source of it. The love that saves comes down from heaven. It does not rise from our hearts to God; it comes down from God’s heart to us. “He loves us,” and it is in the death of Christ that the love of God is seen in all its greatness and glory. No creature can measure it, because no creature can measure the death of Christ. If you can measure what it was for the Eternal Son to lay aside His Godhead glory and come down into this world in humiliation, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, then you would be able to measure the love of God. We could not possibly measure the death of Christ, because it is of infinite value, and God alone knows the value of it, but if we could measure it, we should be able to measure the greatness of His love. We can do neither, for the one is as great as the other.
Then he comes to the application of it. “Beloved, if God so loved us.” What then? Naturally we would say that we ought to love Him, but it is not put that way here. “We ought also to love one another.” Whom did God love? He loved us. He loved the brethren. What will that love do if it gets into my heart? It will do the same thing that it did in the heart of God. It will turn towards God’s children. It does not say we ought to love God. The law said that. Here it says, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” That is our obligation, but is it a law of liberty? Every saint of God in the world is precious to our hearts. We may get under the power of the world, and the flesh may become dominant, so that this love may not be seen, but at the bottom of our hearts, and in the heart of every believer there is love to all the children of God. But here love is practical. “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” What is the good of secret love? “Open rebuke is better than secret love.” What is the good if it lies only in my heart, and is not manifested towards anybody else? It is of no value to anybody. God’s love was in deed and in truth. The commandments of God in the New Testament are infinitely beautiful, and most encouraging. Take for instance what the Lord says to Peter. Peter says, “How often shall my brother trespass against me, and I forgive him—until seven times?” The Lord says, “I say not until seven times, but until seventy times seven.” There is no limit to our forgiveness of one another. Is that a tremendous demand upon us? No, it tells me that what God is seeking is to make Himself manifest in us. Hence, if He says there is to be no limit to my forgiveness of my brother, that means there is no limit to His forgiveness of me. I have only to act towards others as He has acted towards me. If we love one another, God is seen in us. We read in John 1, “No man has seen God at any time.” What is the answer to it? “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” The answer to it in the Gospel was Jesus; the answer to it in the Epistle is the saints. “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” If we love one another practically what will be the effect of it? Everybody will say, “These people are disciples of Jesus.” Why so? Because nobody ever taught it but Himself. They have been in the school of Christ. Every avenue in which the love of God has run in Christ will run in you and me. If we love one another the saints will get their share of that love. If we are going on with God the saints get it, and the world gets it. The world hears the Gospel, and we rejoice when the Gospel is preached. We help those who preach it, if we cannot preach it ourselves. What is the spring and fountain of all that? All these energies proceed from the nature of God, which we have, for God is love. The love is perfected in us, and there is nothing lacking. Wherever you go saint and sinner are met by the love of God, for “we have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”
“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Christ, God dwelleth in Him, and he in God.” But what is God? God is love. He dwells in love, and love dwells in Him. “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Then we have, “Herein is (not our love, but) love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness for the day of judgment.” The love of God reached us when we were in our sins. When we believed the Gospel, that love was shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us, and nothing can separate us from it. It is with us day and night, and that love of God will keep step with us through our whole wilderness journey. It will never abandon us for one single moment. It will keep step with us right through until at last it will have its satisfaction in that day when we shall be changed into the likeness of Christ Himself. Then love will have its satisfaction. It began with us when we were sinners. It is always ours, and all its power is always at our disposal. When we are in the glory like Christ, then the love of God, which has been with us all the way through, will be perfectly satisfied. “Herein is love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” When the day of judgment comes, we shall be like Christ Himself, we shall be like the Judge. We have boldness for the day of judgment, because “As He is, so are we in this world.” If we are before God in all that love and favour and grace that rests upon Him, if that is the love and favour that rests upon us, then we may be perfectly assured that when the day of judgment comes, we shall be like Him, because as He is, we are now. It is a marvellous statement. It may be very difficult for us to take it in, but there it is. Is He in the love of God? So are we. We are supposed to know it now. We do know it in a way. By and by the world will know it. When we appear in the same glory as Christ, the world will say, “After all what was preached here was true. The Father sent the Son, and He has loved those people as He loved His own Son.” “That the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me.” Do we believe that we are treated by God exactly as Christ would be treated in the same circumstances? It is a marvellous thought. We need to carry it really to the Lord to have it made good in our souls. We hear these things so often that our familiarity with them seems almost to breed contempt. They have not the power over our souls that they ought to have, or as perhaps they had the first time we heard them. They ought to have infinitely more power over us every time we hear them, but we are such foolish things, and so wayward. We get so occupied with seen things, that we do not live in the power of these unseen things.
There is no fear in love—no terror. Perfect love casteth out fear. The perfect love of God gets in, and fear has to take its flight. The love of God casts out fear. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” When we did not love Him at all, when there was not one spark of love in our hearts towards Him, He loved us with all His heart. He loved us with all His heart when we hated Him with all our hearts. That is the thing that will get right into our souls that it may be the life of our being. Then we will go through this world as different people to that we would go through it if we had not it in our hearts. He goes on to say, “If a man say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar.” John does not mince matters. He that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? If I see God in a man, if I see the divine nature there, and my heart does not go out to him, you may be quite sure it does not go out to God. If a man did not love Christ, who, perfectly manifested God upon earth, it only proved he did not love God. Your brother is the one who has the divine nature. You see it in him, and if you do not love Him in your brother, you will not love Him in Christ. If you do not love Him in Christ, you will not love Him in heaven. This is the commandment, that he who loves God, love his brother also. It is not a grievous commandment. It is not a commandment of which we are afraid. It is not a commandment we do not wish to obey, or to which we would close our ears. It is a commandment we love to obey, if we only keep ourselves in the enjoyment of that love, and the power of God’s Holy Spirit, then the saints will get all the benefit of that love, and we will be greatly blessed ourselves, for “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto Him, and make our abode with him.”