His Great Love!
Archibald G. Brown, October 29, 1894, East London Tabernacle
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ!" Ephesians 2:4-5
His great love is our great theme this morning — but, oh, how infinitely does the greatness of the theme transcend the slender abilities of the preacher. But this thought encourages him, that, let the preacher be whoever he may, all are on one level here — all alike are powerless to rise to the height of the argument of the amazing theme: 'His great love!' No mere wealth of intellectual grasp avails here. Nay, nor does any Holy Spirit teaching or spiritual initiation fully avail, for, after the most profoundly taught man of God has dwelt upon 'His great love', he will be the very first to acknowledge that the subject lies infinitely beyond all that he has said, even though he may have been mightily helped by the Spirit of God.
'His great love.' Here is a greatness which so overawes and overwhelms, that it diminishes everything else, and yet the desire of our soul is in some measure to reach even to its dizzy height. May that which cannot possibly be fully expressed be yet, by the help of the Holy Spirit, so set forth that every one here shall leave with a truer conception of the greatness of God's love than he had when he entered the building.
'His great love.' This, you will see, is the fountainhead of the river of salvation. It is declared to be so here. In these words you have the eternal spring that supplies the whole of that river of salvation that makes glad the city of our God. How full, how deep, how clear — is its tide. And yet the whole of that river, with all its endless silvery branches, is supplied from the mighty gushing spring of 'his great love'. If it is the fountainhead of all supply, you will see also from the context, that it is the one mighty motive for all.
'But God who is rich in mercy': there is the supply. But why is he rich in mercy? He is rich in mercy 'for his great love'. It is the great love which begets the rich mercy. The mighty motive that gives birth to all is infinite love. Come with me in thought, and gaze upon all the wondrous wheels that revolve in the great work of redemption, and then, as you gaze upon them, remember that the mighty motive power that moves all is this — 'his great love'.
There is no other argument for God saving us. There can be no other argument. Go back into the primary cause of all, and you will come to this, 'his great love'; and if presumptuously you ask, 'But what is the reason of that love? If his love be the original of all — then what is the origin of the original? What gives birth to the great love?' My answer is that God loves us because he will; and I can give you no other explanation. God's love is sovereign love. The roots are in himself; therefore do the fruits abound toward us. Why does God save us? He saves us in order to satisfy his love. He loves us to satisfy his nature.
'God is love.' It is his love that craves for, plans, and works out, our eternal salvation. Love in itself is an invisible thing. It is simply an emotion of the heart; and an emotion is not that which can be beheld by itself. It can be seen only as it manifests itself. You cannot see love; you cannot handle love. Only as love reveals itself in action, can you perceive it. And, as regards the love of God, you cannot even form an idea of its nature by a contemplation of your own emotions of love. Perhaps someone here is already searching his own heart with the hope of attaining to such an idea; but, when he has explored its depths, he will have a very poor standard by which to judge the great love of God. My poor, weak, imperfect, faulty emotion, which I call love, can never be the revelation of the great love of God. We are just shut up to the fact that we are absolutely dependent upon God's revelation for knowing what God's love is. Only as it has pleased him to reveal it to us, can we possibly know it.
This morning I shall want you to look mainly at four points, and each point will have a separate text. We shall turn the flashlight of four or five passages upon our text, and from them show you:
first, God's great love manifested;
next, his great love commended;
thirdly, his great love measured;
and lastly, his great love magnified.
You see our line of thought. It is that love, being an invisible emotion, can only be understood as it is revealed.
I. First of all, note that God's Great Love Is Manifested in the Incarnation. You will find this in the 1st Epistle of John, the 4th chapter, and the 9th verse: 'In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world.' Note this word well, 'In this was manifested the love of God.' The invisible emotion of love was manifested, in that God sent his only begotten Son. To understand this passage we must understand the meaning of 'manifest'. I thought that I would refer to the best dictionaries of the English language in order to see the definition of that word. 'Manifest' means to make evident, to make palpable, so that it can be taken hold of by the hand. Or 'manifest' means to disclose, to display, to put beyond all doubt. Now read the passage thus: 'In this was displayed, in this was put beyond all doubt, in this was made palpable, the love of God — in that he sent his only begotten Son into the world.'
You will get, I think, a very striking light upon the word 'manifest' by turning to Acts 4:16, for, in the original, the same word is used. Peter and John had performed that marvel on the impotent man, and in the 16th verse we read that the members of the council said, 'What shall we do to these men, for that indeed a notable miracle has been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.' The miracle was so manifest that they said, 'It is of no use to try to deny it.' You cannot deny that which is manifest. Now read the passage again. 'In this was manifest' — (that is, so displayed that it cannot be denied) — 'the love of God.'
Once again. Let us throw another scripture light on the words, 'In this was manifested the love of God.' It is the very same word as that which is applied to our Lord's incarnation, for in the 1st Epistle of John, the 1st chapter, and the 1st and 2nd verses, we read, 'That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life, for the life was manifested.' Now, John, I can understand how it is that you have been able to see it, and hear it, and handle it, for the life has been manifested. So displayed was God in Christ that the invisible God was seen, heard, handled. Now, as God was manifested in Christ, so is the love of God manifested in the person of Christ. Christ says, 'He who has seen me has seen the Father.' Likewise also could he have said, 'He who has seen me, has seen the great love of God.'
Oh, that the Spirit of the Lord would help us just now to rise to the great height of this declaration. Do you catch the thought? God's great love has visited the earth, and sojourned and lived on it. God's great love has been seen, heard, handled. It has been made so palpable that even human hands have been able to touch and feel the great love of God, while human eyes have gazed upon it, and human ears listened to its voice.
There is the love of God sleeping in the person of that tiny infant that is pressed to the virgin mother's breast.
Look again. There is the great love of God toiling as an artisan in the carpenter's shop. That one wiping the sweat from his brow, and with the shavings clinging to his shirt, is the incarnation of God's great love.
Look a third time, and you see the love of God preaching — the love of God as a God-sent prophet, declaring the truth, and exclaiming to the weary, 'Come unto me.'
And now, bending over Jerusalem, with big tear-drops running down his cheeks, the love of God is weeping. Oh, have you ever looked at Christ really in this light as a perfect manifestation of the love of God?
Should we be spared for a few months we shall say that spring has come. What do we mean by spring? We have never seen the spirit of the spring. Spring itself is an invisible thing. How can I see the spring? I can only see it as it is manifested in buds that swell and burst, in the flowers that peep and open, in the rustle of the green leaves, and in the quickening of nature everywhere. In this I see and hear the spirit of the spring. In the very chatter of the birds I hear a testimony to this hidden force. I have not seen the spring itself, but I have seen the spring manifested. So the love of God is in itself an invisible emotion — but I behold it in the tears of Christ, I hear it in the words of Christ, I see it in the person of Christ. In this was manifested God's great love, even that he sent his Son.
Can you not see now, in a moment, the utter folly of those people who preach the love of God apart from Jesus Christ? Such preaching is worthless. I cannot know anything of the love of God, save as he manifests it; and he has been pleased to manifest his love in that he sent Jesus Christ. Subtract Jesus Christ, and you wipe away the manifestation, and ask the people to behold the invisible. All the present talk about the love of the eternal Father, irrespective altogether of its manifestation in Jesus Christ, is a snare and a delusion, and not a gospel. God has said, 'Would you see my love? Look there. It is manifested in the person of my Son.'
II. Now I have to flash a second light upon my text. You saw by my first text that God's great love is manifested in the incarnation. My second text shows that His Great Love is Commended by the Death of Christ. You will find the words in the 5th chapter of Romans, and the 8th verse: 'But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' The meaning of the word 'commend', literally translated, is to 'cause to stand together'; hence to confirm, to establish. God has confirmed his love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God's love is manifested in the person of Christ, and then established by his death.
Read the 7th verse of this 5th chapter, and you will see how striking is the argument which it contains. 'For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for the good man someone would even dare to die' (RV). 'It is difficult to imagine it — but still', says the apostle, 'although for a righteous man — that is, an upright, honorable — but unloving man — no one would die, yet it is just within the range of possibility that perhaps for some dear, good, loving man, someone would die.' That is as high as human nature can get. To die for another is the greatest manifestation of love that can be given — but it is gravely questionable whether even for the best of men anyone could be found willing to give this supreme manifestation. 'But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners' — that is, neither righteous nor good — 'Christ died for us.' The supreme act of love is reached for the most unworthy. Poor human nature can scarcely find one willing to die for the best of men; but God has commended his love in that he has reached the highest act of love in the laying down of his life, and he has done this for the very worst of men. That is how God commends his love.
But the very nature of the death enhances the love, for what says my text? 'God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' It was not simply a beautiful, painless, curseless death. It was a substitutionary, sacrificial death, which had the curse of Jehovah accompanying it; a death which made Christ cry, 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'; a death not on softest bed, with every alleviation which love can suggest — but on a rough timber cross; a death in which every agony possible was compressed, and that death was all for us.
Love, as we have been reminding you, is an invisible emotion — but it is manifested in the person of Jesus, and commended, confirmed, and gloriously established, by his atoning death for us upon the accursed tree. The manifestation reached its commendation there. The whole of Christ's life is a mountain range showing forth God's great love; but, when we come to Calvary, there shoots up from that mountain range a snow-capped peak so dazzling white, so majestic in its height, that all the rest of the range seems dwarfed by comparison.
Therefore let us learn the lesson that we cannot preach the love of God, if we leave out the sacrifice of Christ. Oh, that it were possible to make one's words echo beyond this tabernacle into ten thousand deluded ears. Then would I cry aloud, 'You cannot preach the love of God, if you leave out the substitutionary sacrifice. Your talk goes for nothing, for you leave the love of God without its commendation.' God's commendation of his love is this — and he can give no higher — that, while we were yet sinners, God, in the person of Christ, gave himself as a sacrifice for the lost.
III. Our third point is His Great Love Measured. How can we measure this love? You get the answer in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John, and the 23rd verse: 'I in them, and they in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them as you have loved me.' Behold there the measure of God's love. God has loved us — as he loved Christ! I can imagine some thoughtful hearer saying, 'But what is the good of giving us that measure? The measure itself is immeasurable.' That is just what I wanted to bring you to. We have an immeasurable standard given to us. What is God's love to us? It is just the same as God's love to Christ. But what is God's love to Christ? Immeasurable. Then what is God's love to us? Immeasurable.
When we come to measure the city of love that lies four square, an infinite measuring-rod is put into our hands. It is 'As you have loved me.' God's love to Christ was perfect; then God's love to me must be a perfect love. I hardly like to suggest the question — but can you conceive of the love of the Father to the Son being capable of augmentation? Can you conceive of the Father loving Christ a little more at one time than at another? It is almost blasphemy even to suggest the thought. Can you venture to think of there being any diminution in the love which the Father has to the Son? You shrink back with horror, and say, 'God forbid!' Then Jesus tells us that God's love to us is something that cannot be augmented — and something that cannot be diminished. Or, again, can you conceive of the Father's love to Christ ever being alienated? Oh, it were blasphemy to talk of it. 'As you have loved me', says Christ, 'so, Father, you have loved them.' There is the measure of 'his great love'. It is the same love as that which he has unto his Son.
So dear, so very dear, to God,
More dear I cannot be,
For in the person of His Son
I am as dear as He!
IV. We have seen that God's great love . . .
is manifested in the incarnation,
is commended in the death of Christ, and
it can be measured only by his love to his Son.
Observe, lastly, that His Great Love is Magnified in What He Has Done for Us. This is found in the 1st Epistle of John, the 3rd chapter, and the 1st verse. 'Behold' — here is something to be looked at — 'Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.' And then there ought to be added the words found in the Revised Version, 'and such we are.' The word 'manner' which occurs here is a very beautiful one. It might be translated 'style'. 'Behold what style of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God.' We have found that we are unable to measure God's great love, because the only measuring-rod by which it can be gauged is itself immeasurable; but we are able to judge somewhat of the style of his love by what it has done for us.
God is not content with simply forgiving me. It does not satisfy his love just to cleanse me. God does not rest in merely justifying me. His heart prompts him to do something more for me than all this. Then in what further way does his love show itself? Behold, it is God-like in its style. He not only forgives and cleanses; he not only snatches from perdition — but he puts us right into his own family! That is what he does for us. Behold what style of love is here!
You may look until your eyes grow dim with age — but the more you look, the more you will be amazed at this style of his great love. Not only does he save me as a rebel — but he brings me into the King's house! And not only does he bring me into the King's house — but he makes me the King's son, and he says, 'Come, my child, and live with me!'
That beautiful parable of the prodigal son, so often made to teach error because it is wrenched from its context, is intended to set forth the reception which God gives to the soul when it comes to him. The Shepherd, as Redeemer, has done his work in the first parable. The Spirit, with the light and the broom, has done his work as set forth in the second parable. The soul has been found and saved by the Shepherd, and discovered by the Spirit, and now that soul goes to the Father, in the third parable.
What sort of reception is given? There is the young prodigal straight from the swine-trough — a stench, it may be, in the nostrils of decency. But the Father does not say, 'Let him go and take his dinner out in the kitchen among the servants.' Not at all. It is not, 'Rummage over the old clothes, and see whether you can find a worn-out coat, for the shabbiest will be good enough for him.' No, it is 'Bring forth the best robe and put it on him. Get a ring, and put it on the very finger that has been in the pigs' mash. And go and kill the fatted calf, and call all the household in; and let us eat, drink, and be merry.' And the old farm-house rang with melody, and the windows flashed with light, and the rooms shook with the dancing — because the prodigal had been welcomed home.
That is Christ's own picture of how the love of God treats the rescued sinner. Here, methinks, I can in some measure understand his great love:
Manifested in Christ,
commended in the atonement,
measured by his love to the Son,
it is magnified in myself.
One thought, and I close. In the 5th chapter of Romans, and the 5th verse, we find what God does with that love. 'The love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Spirit.' We have seen its manifestation, its commendation, its measurement, and its magnification; and now we behold the Communication of This Wonderful Love to our hearts. The love here mentioned is not my love to God; but God's love to me. And by what medium is this love shed abroad? By the only possible one — the Holy Spirit. It has been pointed out that the word translated 'shed abroad' literally signifies 'to be poured out of'. The meaning, then, is that the love of God is poured out of God's heart into our heart by the Holy Spirit. Only the blessed Spirit who searches and sounds the depths of God knows what the love of God is, and he reveals the same by imparting himself. By filling the heart with himself, he floods it with the love of God.
Dear brother, is the great love of God shed abroad in your heart? Is the aroma of that love filling every chamber of your being? Blessed be his name, 'We have known and believed the love that God has toward us.' Then my prayer for you and for myself is, 'May the Lord direct our hearts into the love of God'; 'his great love', manifested and commended, measured and magnified, and poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
There are who sigh that no fond heart is theirs:
None love them best. Oh, vain and selfish sigh!
Out of the bosom of His love He spares:
The Father spares the Son, for you to die.
For you He died; for you He lives again;
O'er you He watches in His boundless reign.
You are as much His care as if beside
Nor man nor angel lived in Heaven or earth;
Thus sunbeams pour alike their glorious tide
To light up worlds, or wake an insect's mirth:
They shine and shine with unexhausted store;
You are your Savior's darling — seek no more.