Grace and Love

We are comparing the Gospels, chiefly Luke's and John's. Luke was a Gentile and wrote his Gospel for a Gentile. It shows the riches of God's grace overflowing all bounds, and blessing sinners of every sort. In the closing scenes that same grace is active on behalf of the Lord's own frail and failing disciples. Simon Peter is the special object of that grace. He was the vessel chosen of God to write "concerning the true grace of God" in which every Christian stands; and of this he had to write not only as inspired by the Holy Ghost, but out of his own experience. His words were to be infallible words because Holy Ghost-given, but he was to be able to say as he wrote, I know the truth of them in my soul's history. We should give thanks to God for that impulsive disciple and his blunders and failures.

The grace of the Lord to Simon Peter was displayed in three most affecting incidents, which are only related by Luke. First, in the Supper room the Lord said, "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." That was grace before the fall. Then at the time of the great crash when Peter had three times denied that he knew the Lord, before the men that held Jesus and mocked Him had blindfolded His eyes, we read, "And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter." That was grace to Peter at his worst. Then on the resurrection day, when repentance had done its work in Peter's soul, we read, "The Lord is risen indeed and has appeared to Simon." Put these three things together — "I have prayed for thee," "The Lord turned and looked on Peter" and "The Lord has appeared to Simon" — and we have a story of grace in three chapters which fills our souls with amazement. Truly where sin abounded grace did much more abound. And that grace abounds as full and fresh as ever for you and me.

Foreknowledge is a Divine attribute: Satan does not possess it, but the Lord does; and He knew that Satan was plotting to destroy the faith of Simon Peter, and He knew that the self-confidence of His disciple would make him an easy prey. But the Lord was ahead of Satan and had secured for Peter beforehand that grace which preserved his faith in spite of his great failure. We marvel that Peter was so little affected by the Lord's words. He thought he was equal to any test, he thought he knew himself better than the Lord knew him, and did not believe the warning that that very night he would deny Him thrice. If he had been a wise man and not so full of what Simon was able to do, he would have cast himself at the feet of the Lord and cried, "Preserve me, O Lord, for in Thee do I put my trust." But instead he answered, "Lord, I am ready" — if the devil ever laughs he must have laughed then — "I am ready to go with Thee both to prison and death."

We know the sequel. Peter meant to fight, but the power of the devil was too great for him and he trusted in himself. His self-confidence was his undoing, and would have been his damnation if the Lord had not been greater than Satan and His grace greater than Peter's sin.

"The Lord turned and looked upon Peter." It was not a look of anger or even of reproach, but of tenderest pity. Would he ever forget it? As he bowed himself in the fierce agony of his repentance that look would be a memory more vivid than the cock crowing; it would be a ray of light in his darkness. Judas had gone out and hanged himself. Should he do the same? No. The devil could not drive him so far; he was preserved through that awful soul-struggle by the Lord's intercession and by that look of infinite grace; his faith did not fail.

We are not told where Simon went when he fled from the high priest's kitchen, but we may imagine his state of mind. He was beaten and battered and broken; Satan's attack had scattered the chaff of his self- confidence but the wheat of his faith remained, but how feeble it must have been. How wonderful was the Lord's way with him. Peter was His first thought on the resurrection morning, and the only one of the disciples to be spoken of by name. When the women arrived at the grave of the Lord they were greeted by a young man in white garments sitting there, an angel from heaven. He was waiting to give them a special message which the Lord had committed to him. "Go your way," said he, "and tell His disciples and Peter." But that belongs to Mark's record and we are considering Luke's, who gives us something more wonderful than the angel's words. Luke tells us of the disciples gathered together in the upper room, saying, "The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon." They were filled with amazement. "The Lord is risen" — that was joyful news, and yet what it might have meant for them! They were faithless men; they had forsaken Him and fled at the first blast of the storm. Might He not cast them off and choose others who would not fail Him? That would have been their natural thought, but He had appeared to Simon. Simon who had denied Him thrice, and who had cursed and sworn about it. The man whose sin was the worst was the first to be sought out by the Lord and to receive from Him the assurance of unchanged and unchanging love. "The Lord is risen indeed" declared that He was greater than the greatest foe without; "and has appeared to Simon" declared that His grace was more than equal to the greatest failure within. These things were written for our learning. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever."

Now we come to John's Gospel, where we see greater things than these. It is the Gospel of Divine and infinite love. In the earlier part of it we see that love in its sovereign and compassionate out-going; we see it giving, giving, giving. But in the latter part it is the love of relationship, which cannot rest or be satisfied unless it can look with complacency upon the loved objects.

Chapters 13 to 17 open up for us the inner circle of His love, and to us as to the two disciples who followed Him in chapter 1 the Lord says, "Come and see." It is where He dwells and His love would have us dwell with Him there. We are told that "having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end." His love for them could neither falter nor fail, and His loved ones are "His own." Let us grasp this word. It is unqualified. They were His exclusive possession, his peculiar treasure; as a mother might press her child to her heart and say, "My own." He will not admit the right of any other to them except the Father, and to Him He says, "I have manifested Thy Name to the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were and Thou gavest them Me … They are Thine, and all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine" (chap. 17). He tells us also the measure and manner of His love — "As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you" (chap. 15). Truly this love of Christ passes knowledge.

But there is not only the love of our Lord for us in this Divine circle, but the Father's love embraces us also. The Lord has said, "The Father Himself loves you because ye have loved Me" (chap. 16). And the Father's love must not merely rest upon us, and be a matter of faith with us only, but He said to His Father, "I have declared to them Thy Name and will declare it, that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them and I in them." The Father's love is to be within our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost, our known and enjoyed portion; nothing less than this will satisfy our Lord.

"He gives not as the world but shares
All He possesses with His loved co-heirs."

The Father's love is greater and better than all it gives, and it is ours to share it with His Son, and it is His to share with us.

Ponder this amazing thing — this double embrace of love. As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves us, and the love of the Father to the Son is the love that abides on us; this is our joy, our place of rest, our dwelling-place for ever.

But it must be noted that for the knowledge and enjoyment of this relationship with the Father and the Son there are necessary conditions. We have the Lord's own word for this. He said, "If a man love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him" (chap. 14). And again, "If ye keep My commandment ye shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father's commandment and abide in His love" (chap. 15). Nothing can dissolve the relationship or weaken the love that has set us in it, but we will all admit that it cannot be enjoyed if we are indifferent to the Lord's words or disobedient to His commands. The fuller our knowledge and enjoyment of the blessed relationship the more careful we shall be to disallow everything that might cause a breach in our fellowship with the Father and the Son. But the Lord Himself has and does exercise Himself in this matter also, for it means more to Him than to us.

First in importance is His prayer in chapter 17: there is nothing else like it in the whole of the Scriptures. The intercession for Peter in Luke's Gospel had his failure in view and as far as we know was confined to that; He was there an Advocate for Peter with the Father. But in John 17 He asks not according to the need of the disciples, He goes exceedingly abundantly above all they could ever ask or think; He asks according to the height and depth of His love for them, and according to the Father's counsel about them. It has been called His High-Priestly prayer. I should not so describe it. His prayer for Peter might well be that, but this is the revelation to us of communion between the Father and the Son; the Son equal with the Father, and yet keeping the place of subjection which He had taken for the Father's glory, and receiving everything from Him and referring all things to Him. The prayer transcends all exposition: we can only meditate upon it and wonder and worship.

The Lord commits those in whom They were mutually interested to the Father's care. How wonderful are His requests. "Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those Thou hast given Me." "I pray that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil (of the world)." "Sanctify them through the truth; Thy word is truth." "These things I speak in the world that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves." All these requests that He made abide before the Father in all their power and fragrance, and every one of them will be answered according to the Father's love to the Son.

But scarcely of less importance is the feet-washing of chapter 13. The scene is one of the most moving in the Gospel records. We read, "Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came from God and went to God." Consider the magnitude of that. The whole range of God's glory in the limitless universe was committed to the hands of Jesus, showing the absolute confidence that the Father reposed in Him. Now mark well what follows. Knowing that, "He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments, and took a towel and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded." The first thing of all the things the Father had put into His hands were the feet of His own. His love made it necessary that He should thus serve them.

Peter comes into the picture again. He did not know that the washing of his feet had a spiritual meaning. We know its meaning now. It reveals to us the fact that our Lord, though with the Father out of the world, is girded to serve His own which are in the world, and that He is most careful of their feet. How and where His own walk is a matter of infinite importance to Him. If Peter had heeded the Lord's warning in Like 22, his feet would have been washed by the word and he would not have trodden the miry road of denying his Lord.

The Lord's words to Peter shed much light on this action of His. "If I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me." The object of it was that His disciples might enter with joy into this circle of divine love, the fellowship of the Father and the Son. For this the soil of earth must be washed away. How often when we have sought the presence of the Lord we have found our spirits lethargic and dull, with very little desire for His company and things. This is the result of the defiling influences of the evil world, and such a condition on our part is intolerable to the Lord, for His love is a sensitive love and feels it when distance has crept in. Then He brings His word in power to our souls, driving away the dullness and reawakening within us responsive love to Him and a desire to have part with Him in His things. This is the washing of our feet, "the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26).

We need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that LUKE portrays; we cannot do without the intercession, the advocacy, the compassion, the restoring grace. We cannot depend upon ourselves or our faithfulness to our Lord, but we can depend upon Him. We can bring the burden of our weakness and need to Him. He is indispensable to our spiritual well-being, but for ever blessed be His Name, He is all-sufficient. But JOHN shows us that we are indispensable to Him. In speaking to His Father He gives emphasis to the fact that His own are His Father's gift of love to Him. He says, "I am glorified in them" and again, "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world." He cannot do without us, so precious were we in His sight that He gave Himself for us, and He lives for us to bring us into that circle of love where Father and Son can rejoice over us and rest in Their love.