The Love of God (1)

Romans 5:5-8; Ephesians 2:4-10

All the thoughts of God toward His people are thoughts of love. He has not, never had, nor ever will have, a thought toward any of His own than that of love. He may chasten them, scourge them, bring them through deep waters of tribulation and affliction, take them away out of this world by the death of the body, but every one of these ways of His with His own springs from the fountain of love, which, welling out of His own blessed heart, has stopped at no sacrifice for the recovery of its objects from distance, darkness, death, and the power of the devil, and for the establishing of their souls in holy, heavenly, and eternal relationships with Himself, in love’s own dwelling-place.

It was love that thought of us before the world was, that planned redemption, that gave us our place in Christ, that determined to have us as sons before His face for ever, and that guards us throughout our whole pilgrim pathway, until we land at home in His glorious rest. It is love, infinite, unspeakable love, that occupies itself about us at this present moment, and that will stand by us, should every friend abandon us and become our enemy. It was with us yesterday, it is with us today, it will be with us tomorrow, and it will be with us in the Father’s House, where we shall know it better, far better, and enjoy it more, immeasurably more than we now do, though love itself will be no greater then than it is at this present moment, for all its immeasurable vastness, fullness, and infiniteness, is now lavished upon us by a Father’s hand. We are loved as Christ is: “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). And this love has already had its full and perfect manifestation.

Romans and Ephesians are the two great epistles in which the intervention of God in grace is set before us. In Romans we have God at work for the deliverance of man from the service of sin, and in Ephesians we have the same blessed God at work for the rescue of His creature from moral death. In Romans we are viewed as the slaves of sin; we are completely under its domination, loving its service, dreading its wages, and unable to help ourselves. In Ephesians we are contemplated as dead in sins, for we are looked at from above, from the standpoint of God, and we are all in moral death; as dead to God spiritually as those in their graves are dead to us. In Romans it is “the house of bondage” that is before the mind of the Spirit, and upon which He operates for the deliverance of souls, and in Ephesians it is a graveyard upon which He operates in life-giving power.

In Romans it is the righteousness of God which is brought prominently before us, and in Ephesians it is His power. I do not mean to say that we have not His righteousness alluded to in Ephesians. I could not say that, with verse 7 of chapter 1 before my eyes; neither do I mean to assert that we have not His power set before us in Romans, for it is just the subject in the latter part of chapter 4. But that which is prominent in Romans is righteousness, and in Ephesians power.

In Romans the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat comes conspicuously into evidence, but in Ephesians there is no reference to a mercy-seat at all. We have it in Romans, because it is the declaration of His righteousness, and the place from which grace can flow righteously to sinners. But in Ephesians we are not occupied with a testimony of grace addressed to men in responsibility, but with the sovereign operations of God upon men incapable of any response to the testimony of a Saviour-God. It is the Potter dealing with an inert mass of clay, making vessels in which the cunning workmanship of His love is to come to light. In Romans it is clothing for naked sinners; in Ephesians it is life for the dead. In Romans it is man in responsibility; in Ephesians it is the sovereign operations of God. In Romans we have the intervention of God on man’s behalf, and in Ephesians His intervention on His own behalf. In the former we have the compassions of God in activity for the deliverance of His poor, helpless, sin-dominated creatures, and in the latter we see Him at work for the fulfilment of His counsels.

But in both there is this in common: the spring of all His activities is the love of His heart. But it is in Romans we get its manifestation. We do not get this in Ephesians, but we have the activities of the same love, which came to light in the cross, at work for the fulfilment of its eternal purposes. There has been, and there can be but one manifestation of that love, it has already come to light, and it can never be repeated. As I have said, it is love that has been behind all His ways with us from the beginning, but it was at the cross of His Son that the mighty volume of that love flowed out from His heart, and there can be no second manifestation of it, nor is there a second needed. Into our hearts this love has been poured by the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.

And we must learn something of this before we come to its activities, as we have them in Ephesians. We must get the question of responsibility settled before we can enter into the eternal thoughts of God. We must know something of His intervention on our behalf before we can rightly appreciate His intervention on His own behalf.

Is the reader in the enjoyment of this fathomless love of God, or is he occupied with his trials, temptations, old evil nature? and when he thinks of what a trial he has been to God, and how provoking some of his ways must have been to Him who is so righteous and holy, has it become a question in his mind as to his interest in the blessings of the Gospel, and his share in such wondrous love? What unworthy thoughts these are! As if God did not know all about you when He gave His Son to bear your blame and suffer in your stead! And you have forgotten, or never rightly apprehended, that it was “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

And you have been occupied with what you are for God, instead of with what He is for you. You have been searching your heart for love to Him, instead of allowing the bright, warm, comforting, life-imparting beams of His great love to fall upon that cold, desolate, selfish heart of yours. And what is it all but miserable pride and folly? Wanting to be something yourself, possessing some merit of your own, instead of letting sins, self, badness, goodness, and everything else sink out of sight, and allowing this blessed God of love to fill the whole vision of your soul, now and for all eternity. Does the knowledge of such a God not so affect you that you are beside yourself with joy? Why, He might have been the opposite of what He is, for aught you once knew; and, indeed, you did once think Him hard, kindless, and unfeeling; and then what a surprise it was to learn that God is love.

And to think that he could take hold of your very lawlessness, sinfulness and hatred to Himself, as a means of bringing all His kindness and love to light, that you might never more have a thought about anything but Himself. And now you are uneasy because you are finding out what a sinner you are instead of seeing that your very vileness does but throw into relief the grace of such a Saviour-God. Why, the more vile you see yourself to be, the more brightly does His loving-kindness shine out, through the woes of Golgotha, upon your enlightened heart.

But your fear is that you may not have rightly believed, or that you may not have repented enough, and that in thinking you were His you may have been deceiving yourself; for you judge that were you a true believer you would be different from what you are. And thus it is all yourself, and your faith, and your repentance, and your interest in the great salvation; and it is not God at all, nor Christ, nor the love manifested in that cross of woe. Your eye is upon yourself and not upon God, and yet He has brought Himself to light in order that your attention might be diverted from what you are for Him, to that which He is for you. Do you think anyone ever sought Him in this day of grace and failed to find Him? Do you think anyone ever had a true desire after Him and was refused admittance into His favour? But you are occupied with your own selfishness, and with the fact that you only want to come to Him because you feel you must perish without Him, and thus you feel to be so unworthy of anything from Him, that you despair of ever being a partaker of His grace.

But do you not see that this is all yourself, and what you are. Why, to begin with, there is not a bit of good in you, nor indeed would there ever have been a true desire after His favour had that desire not been begotten in you by His own Holy Spirit. Of course you are selfish. Like the prodigal you came for bread, and you are met with unspeakable love. As depth after depth of your depravity is discovered, cannot you say with a heart over-flowing with thankfulness: “And knowing all this, God gave His only begotten Son to suffer in my stead!” It is this love that the Holy Ghost sheds abroad in our hearts, and from which there is no separation. May our hearts be ever in the enjoyment of it.

But let us contemplate for a brief moment the activities of that love as we have it in Ephesians. There we learn that, from the first thought of God about us, down the whole course of time, and reaching away into the distant ages of eternity, love has been, is now, and ever shall be, the spring of all His activities regarding us. No less a place would do for us, according to these counsels, than that we should be in Christ, holy and blameless before God in love, sons before the Father, and taken into favour in the Beloved. That these counsels might be fulfilled we get the mighty power of God put forth.

But when we come to contemplate our actual condition when He began to operate upon us for the fulfilment of His purposes of grace, we find we were dead in trespasses and sins. The state in which we were in the house of bondage was, as viewed from the divine side, moral death. In that morally dead condition we were very active, and our activities are set before us in the early chapters of Romans, but in Ephesians those activities are said to be directed and energised by the prince of the power of the air. I have said, we were as dead to God as those who are in their graves to us. But in a sense our condition was worse than that, for moral death involves a state of enmity against God.

And this was the state of the whole world. Jew and Gentile together lay dead in sins. It was a scene of darkness, chaos and death. What was there for God in it all? Nothing. What was there under His eye in which He could take the least pleasure? Not a single thing. Man was dead in sins, and Christ was dead, murdered by those He came to save. The life of flesh was thus seen to be incorrigibly wicked and full of enmity against God, even when He was manifested in grace. There was no mending of this. Man must get a new life or perish for ever. And for this moment divine love was waiting. Until the utter wickedness of the life of flesh was brought to light there could be no revelation of a new life for man. But the incorrigible evil of the life of flesh came to light in the presence of a life in the person of Christ, which was to the perfect delight and satisfaction of the heart of God.

And this is the only life for ruined men. Therefore “God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sin, has quickened us together with Christ.” Now we find ourselves in the life of the risen Christ, and there by the quickening power of God. This is the love that came to light in the death of Christ, which is now seen active in bringing us into the life of Christ, and putting forth all His power that He may do so. Then we find we are raised up and seated in Him in the heavenlies. All that we were as in the flesh, we see in Romans to have come under the judgment of the cross, and now we are in Christ, where all is new creation, and where all things are of God, and of men in Christ we may well glory.

But that love has not finished with us when we are brought to where, before the world was, it purposed we should be. In the ages to come He will show to the vast universe of intelligent beings the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. All that it is possible to do for us this love will do. And when we have learned it in the cross, and seen it displayed in the death of the Son of God, we are ready to believe any good thing about it. We can say, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). He can never do as much for us as He has done already, and what He has done was done for us when we were yet sinners. Well may we sing:
  O mind divine, so must it be
    That glory all belongs to God;
  O love divine that did decree
    We should be part, thro’ Jesus’ blood.
  O keep us, love divine, near Thee
    That we our nothingness may know,
  And ever to Thy glory be
    Walking in faith while here below.