The Love of Christ (1)

John 14:31; 13:1

The love of Christ is said to surpass knowledge, and the more we meditate upon it the more we become conscious of our utter inability, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, to seize the immensity of that infinite, self-sacrificing, knowledge—surpassing love, which led the eternal Son from the eternal Father, and the form of God to take a bondsman’s form, being made in the likeness of men, and to subject Himself to the contempt, rejection, scorn and derision of His rebellious creatures, and in the end to take the place of the Sin-bearer, suffer the forsaking of God, and give up His life upon a malefactor’s gibbet. It was a journey of love, from the highest heights to the lowest depths, unpunctuated by one backward look, one moment of hesitation that might suggest uncertainty, or reluctance to go forward; no complaining word escaped those lips, through which only the voice of the living Father made itself heard; no curse was hurled against the heads of those that accepted His favours and in the end clamoured for His crucifixion. One word from His lips would have brought more than twelve legions of angels against His miserable, thankless, and wicked antagonists, but that word was not spoken, “He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth, He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).

No terror that rose up in the pathway of that love could turn it aside from the goal to which it was steadily advancing. Beset by every sorrow, anathematized by the leaders of the nation, regarded as mad by His relatives, misunderstood by everybody, friendless and afflicted He pursued His pathway of unspeakable love, though the woes that encircled His lonely Person steadily increased, until they reached their culmination in the cursed death of the cross, and the abandonment of God; and there that love, that for the space of thirty-three years had made this valley of death redolent with its odours, poured forth in infinite volume and in omnipotent power its everlasting and unutterable sweetness: love to His Father in the first instance, but love also to all given to Him of the Father.

The unapproachable light in which the Godhead dwells contains its own unfathomable secrets; but the things that are revealed belong to us, who have received the Holy Spirit in order that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God; which things have been spoken to us in words taught by the same Spirit. We can therefore be in the full light of the revealed will of God, and more than that we know nothing; nor into unrevealed mysteries have we any desire to penetrate. The light that the sun gives us is all that we require for light and health. A little more might be destructive to us, so the revelation that God has made to us is all that we need for our eternal happiness, and the subject mind desires no greater revelation, but only to know that revelation better.

The revelation that we have of God conveys to us the great truth that He is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; three persons, yet one God, and God is Love. This is what He is in His nature, what He is in His very being. There is nothing but love between those Divine and Eternal Persons. “Thou lovedst Me,” says Jesus to the Father, “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). “God is Love” is the only absolute appellative that is used of the supreme Being; and what a wave of infinite happiness and indescribable joy overwhelms the soul as we meditate upon the marvellous fact that love is the nature of the One with whom we have to do. That “God is light” the Word also declares, but we are also said to be light, and therefore I take it that light is a more relative term, and not so absolute as love.

But as my object is at present to meditate a little upon the love of Christ, I must seek to engage the reader’s attention with One of these Divine Persons in His manifestation here upon earth, the Son divested of the form of God, and clothed in the form of a Servant; no more to exercise authority as a despot, accountable to no higher power for His actions, but to be under the authority of another, and to do the will of the Father that sent Him. What a change of circumstances! How wondrous to behold the Creator of the worlds in the form of a Servant, a Man amongst men; in outward form not distinguishable from other men, thus in order that He might accomplish the will of the Father!

By the way in which we have the truth presented to us in the Scriptures we learn that counsels belong to the Father (Eph. 1:3-14); the Son becomes Man, in order that through Him those counsels may be fulfilled (John 17), and the Holy Spirit is the Power by which all are brought to pass (Acts 10:38). In proof of each of these statements many other texts of Scripture might be adduced, but they can be easily found by the reader, and this exercise will be full of both interest and spiritual profit.

The presence of the Son here upon this earth in humiliation is the witness of His love to the Father. Those eternal counsels of love were as dear to His heart as to the heart of the Father; and in the laying of a foundation upon which all those counsels could be righteously fulfilled He knew all the horrors that such a work entailed. But such was His great love to the Father, such His infinite desire that those counsels should have their fulfilment, such His delight to do the will of the Father, He would go through all those horrors, let the cost to Himself be what it might.

And having become a Servant He will be a Servant for ever. The descent from the form of God to that of a servant may be immeasurable, His lowly birth humiliating, His death upon the cross ignominious, His descent into hades dishonourable in the extreme; but it was the hand of the Father that had marked out that path for His feet to tread; and He also knew that beyond the reproach, and the shame, and the gibbet, and the darkness, and the forsaking, and the death, there was for Him “Thy presence, where there is fullness of joy, and Thy right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). Therefore for the joy that was set before Him He could endure the cross and despise the shame (Heb. 12:2). His words when going to that cross were, “That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:31). In His great love to the Father, and that the Father might be glorified, even to the giving up of His life He did everything that could be done upon earth, and then asked to be glorified, in order that He might still glorify Him upon the platform of resurrection. And when all those counsels of love have been fulfilled, and when every enemy has been subdued, His subjection to the Father shall be as eternally perfect, and His love as undiminished as it was when tested by the death of the cross.

But how can we speak of the Father’s appreciation of that self-sacrificing love of His beloved Son? We can only estimate the delight that the Father has in Him, as we are able to estimate the place of exaltation given Him of the Father. He could say when here below, “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again” (John 10:17). Because of that mighty work that He accomplished to the Father’s glory, and at His commandment, He has been highly exalted, and a Name given to Him which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly, earthly, and infernal beings; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). The Son has loved the Father above all else, and His love has been proven, by His taking the place of a servant, and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; and the love of the Father to the Son is proven, by the place which as Man He occupies on the Father’s throne, and by the fact that the Father is determined that His Son shall have the same honour as Himself from every intelligent being; for all must honour the Son, even as they honour the Father (John 5:23).

But in His becoming man, and in all the work that He has done, as well as His present activities on our behalf before the face of God, we see His love for those given Him of the Father. It is our privilege, as individual believers, to take up the words of the apostle into our ups, and confess, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me”; and as part of that wondrous organism of which He is the Head, rejoice in the fact that He loved the church, and gave Himself for it. Whatever He did, He did for the glory of the Father, but He did it no less for our eternal blessing. “Forasmuch, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).

It is with holy adoration that we draw near in contemplation of His taking the form of a servant, and being found in fashion as a man, for the glory of the Godhead, and that the counsels of the Father might be carried out; but that He should set His affections upon such rebellious worms of the dust as we all are by nature, this is just where we lose ourselves in utter bewilderment, for it surely surpasses knowledge. Perhaps it is not always that we are in the blissful contemplation of its glory and its infinity, but when the reality and greatness of it breaks with overwhelming power over heart and mind, we begin to realize that though we know it, and rejoice in its quickening beams, and that with a joy unspeakable, its sweetness, its vastness, its marvellous mystery, can never be fully known.

The blessed God has graciously given to us the power of speech, by means of which we can express the thoughts that rise up in our creature minds. We speak of eternity, infinity, and suchlike words, but these terms are much more the expression of our own creature limitations, our utter ignorance of the things we know to be realities rather than an exposition of the things themselves. It is thus with the great verities of revelation, things that are much more to be felt and enjoyed than to be set forth in human parlance. When we think of eternity we have the thought of endless duration of time; and when we think of infinity, that which has not bounds or limits is before our minds. But what know we of either? May I not also ask, What need we know? We know that the love of Christ is our sure and lasting portion: ours while we have our being, and that its magnitude is beyond all our ability to grasp. And we know that it is not only the little of it that we can grasp that is ours; it is all ours. It has all been lavished upon us, and it is all ours to be enjoyed.

We know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). What amazing down-stooping on His part we see in His advent into this world! What marvellous self-abnegation! From form of God into form of servant, from despot to slave, from omnipotence to infant weakness, from the adoration of angels to the contempt of men: love incarnate in a world of incarnate lust!

 “Come now and view that manger,
    The Lord of glory see,
  A houseless, homeless stranger
    In this poor world for thee.”

Love brought Him there—sovereign love. He had come forth from the Father, and was come into the world. He had come forth from riches, and was come into poverty. He had come from the throne of the universe, and was come to a manger where the cattle fed. He had called the creation into existence by the Word of His power, He was now in that creation in the form of a creature. He had been accustomed to give commandment, now He must hearken to, and execute, the behests of Another. In His presence seraphim veiled their faces, now must He meet the proud and persecuting stare of His rebellious creatures. How altered are the circumstances of the Lord of glory!

See the poverty into which His love has brought Him! An outcast in a manger! A stranger in His own world! His delights had ever been with the sons of men (Prov. 8:31). And now He is with them, and in their likeness, beginning where man begins, come of a woman, born into the world, love come down to heal sin-ruined souls. To the human eye the expression of weakness, but really the Upholder of the universe, which is the work of His own hands. Here under the protection of the Father, never to use His own power for His protection from insult or injury, but ever to commit Himself to Him that judges righteously; well knowing that His career upon earth must begin in a manger and close on a gibbet, while all His history between must be marked by the scorn, derision, and persecution of His rebellious creatures.

But is it not just this that has endeared Him to our hearts? It is in the evils that beset His path that we see His infinite moral perfections brought to light. We know Him where He is on the throne of the Father, but it is in His sojourn down here that we have learned Him. His present circumstances are very different to what they were in the days of His flesh, but there is no change in Him. He is “the same yesterday, today, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). It is He who was here that we look forward to see face to face, and to be with at His coming again.

But it is His lowly grace, His poverty, His meekness, that has attracted our hearts; because all this shows us the extent to which He was willing to go to make us His own. And what else, O Lord, could have won our heart’s affections? Not the worship of angels; not Thy works of mighty power; not even the Father’s voice from the opened heavens. These wonders might have awed and terrified our creature souls, but they would not have led us to confide in Thee? No!

 “We cling to Thee in weakness,
    The manger and the cross;
  We gaze upon Thy meekness
    Thro’ suffering, pain, and loss.”

Thou didst speak words the like of which never before had saluted the ears of men. They expressed that which lay in Thine own heart of unfathomable love for such as we know ourselves to be. They came through Thy lips warm from the bosom of the living Father, where Thou hadst Thine everlasting dwelling-place. As had been traced on the two tables of stone that which man should be for God, so Thou didst trace on the dust of this world that which God was in grace for man. And also Thou didst manifest in Thy lowly life the order of man, and the only order of man, that can live for ever in relation with God.

Surely Thou art all-powerful. Thou knowest all things, and Thou canst do all things. There is nothing too hard for Thee. But it is to Thee in weakness we cling—the deep weakness of the manger, and the deeper weakness of the cross; yet the Upholder of all things in both manger and cross as Thou now art on the throne of the Highest. What unfathomable mysteries surround Thy holy Person!

Only the Father knows the Son (Matt. 11:28). It is utterly impossible for our creature minds to fathom the mysteries of the incarnation, not should we have the least desire to do this. We should be perfectly satisfied with the revelation given to us, for all that the creature could receive, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, is given to us in the Holy Scriptures. Not to frankly enter into that which is revealed is to greatly hinder the growth of our souls, and to attempt to go beyond the Word is to wander into dangerous error. But God would have our souls enlightened and nourished by the Word of truth. He would have us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Therefore, while we must be careful not to go beyond the limits of Scripture, we must just be as careful not to allow our natural timidity to rob us of that which is vital to the welfare of our souls. Let us search the Scriptures diligently, but let us search them prayerfully also, and in distrust of our natural minds in whatever form they may assert themselves.

I make bold to say, however, that the soul who has not learned the excellencies of Christ as manifested in His lowly life, has never yet learned them. It is the humbled Christ that has won our hearts. The way in which He entered this world, and the way in which He went out of it, shall never be forgotten by His redeemed people. Whatever else we may have learned, these are the great verities that have won our affections. And the brightest hope we have is to be with Him who ever had His delight with the sons of men, and who in infinite grace, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor; in order that we through His poverty might become rich. May He be daily the study of our souls and the great light and joy of all our hearts.