God's Love Manifested in the Law
George Everard, 1868
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:4-5
It is a pleasant thing for a child to discover in some way which he had not anticipated, a fresh evidence of a parent's deep affection. To the prayerful student of Holy Scripture, often will there be revealed therein, from time to time — fresh glimpses of the love of our heavenly Father, and that often in an unlooked-for way.
We shall find it so in the law revealed from Sinai. For what is the substance of that law, and its chief command? Is it not love — love to our God, our Creator, our Benefactor? And is not love the highest happiness of man? Where the object is worthy of our affection, is it not the spring of the highest, truest, purest joy that lingers in our sorrow-stricken world? What consolation is found in the kindness, in the tenderness of kindred, in the bond that links friend to friend, parent with child, husband with wife! If in family relationships, God multiplies our sorrows — He also multiplies our joys. If a man has no heart to love — then he is a wretched, miserable being, though he might call a world his own.
Yet in creature-love there lacks at least one element of rest; it cannot always abide. He who loves the most will probably one day be the most deeply wounded. When Abraham went forth to sacrifice Isaac, the fearful blow must have fallen tenfold heavier because of the deep love that he bore to him. So we need to set our highest love on One of whom not even death itself can rob us. And it is to this we are invited in the command given.
God proposes as the object of our supreme affection . . .
Himself, the fountain of bliss,
Himself, the source of all the love that is found on earth,
Himself, the faithful God that lives and abides forever.
Thus does He manifest His love in bidding us do that which tends to our highest happiness, for he who has learned to love God — has begun to taste on earth the joy of Heaven.
But in another respect we see God's love in this command. Only love seeks love. Only one who loves you — cares to have your love in return. Yes, and in proportion as anyone loves you — the more of your affection does he desire. A father that cares but little for his children would not much regard it though a stranger were to come in and eclipse their love to him. But if a parent's tenderest thoughts and affections center around one of his offspring — then how deeply will he be hurt by the very least indifference or coldness of feeling.
Now it seems indeed surprising that the Creator, the Fountain of light and love, should ask for the feeble taper of human love — yet what does it tell of His feeling toward us? It is written, "the Lord your God is a jealous God." So again: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." What a revelation of love is here! What says it but this: "I am jealous of your affection! I would have you love Me preeminently, with all your heart and soul and might — because it is thus that I feel towards you, because with all my heart and soul and might, do I love you!"
Consider also that only love merits love. Only a God of love could reasonably ask our love. Were Jehovah such as some have imagined — a mighty Being who once created mankind, but now so distant, so far from this earth of ours, that He neither thinks of us or cares for us — He might justly demand obedience and service — for this by our creation we should owe to Him. But how could He ask our love? Surely He requires nothing beyond that which is right; therefore, in demanding our love — does He not proclaim His own love to us?
And while He thus reminded Israel of old of their duty towards Him, He gave them evident proofs of the justice of the claim. He set before them what He had wrought, and what He would yet work on their behalf. He had delivered them from a cruel bondage, and He would yet bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.
And by what He has performed already, and by what He has promised to us — may we also perceive the exceeding greatness of His love to us. How much has He wrought in the perfected atonement and the glorious resurrection of Christ, as likewise in all His gracious dealings with His Church from the beginning! How exceeding great and precious are those promises of mercy, grace, help, peace, sanctification, and glory, which are given to us in the Word of truth.
Oh, doubting one, bathe your soul in the ocean-depths of God's love! Read it in the law, read it in the Gospel. Read it in every precept, and in every promise. Be afraid to grieve, by your unbelief, Him whose loving kindness so far surpasses all your thoughts!
But while we delight to find in this command fresh evidences of God's love, let us not fail to mark how high and comprehensive is the standard of duty which it sets before us.
It shows clearly that a religion of mere outward service will not be accepted. Whatever value it may possess as beneficial to others in the example which it affords, it lacks the chief element which God regards. "This people draws near unto Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips — but their heart is far from Me. In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men." "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall never enter into the kingdom of Heaven." "My son, give Me your heart." "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart."
Within the compass of the second commandment do we find clearly laid down the principle — that of love — by which alone obedience to any command can be pleasing in the sight of God: "Showing mercy unto thousands of those who love Me, and keep my commandments." Without the heart given to God, without true love and zeal, without an earnest following after His precepts, you possess no saving religion.
And learn too that God will have the first place in our hearts. When Christ taught His disciples that if any man hated not father or mother, husband or wife or child for His sake — he could not be one of His flock; in a very forcible way He was putting this truth before them. Of course He never meant that natural affection was to be quenched, to do this is to sin both against the law and the Gospel. But Christ would have men know that He would be King; that if another, though the dearest on earth, would draw them away from their allegiance to Him — they must act toward them even as though they hated them; yes, even if need be, they must part with them forever.
A lad was brought before a native magistrate in India on account of his desiring to embrace Christianity. He was asked why he desired this. He replied that he longed for salvation which he could not find in his old religion — and that Sudras and Brahmins alike would perish unless they believed in Christ. His mother then appealed to him by all that she had done for him, not to bring disgrace upon his family, or to grieve her by being baptized. He made a short and beautiful answer, exactly illustrating the meaning of our Lord's command: "God first," said he, "mother second." It must be so. God Himself must be first, all else must stand second. Kindred, ease, comfort, worldly interests, our favorite pursuits, yes, even our plans for doing good, and our work in the Lord's vineyard — must not be permitted to be our chief delight. We must rise above all to find our joy, our satisfaction in God Himself.
Hence we see our need for the perpetual aid of the Holy Spirit. Men naturally have no love to a just and holy God — still less do they love Him with all their heart. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." This enmity takes various shapes.
Sometimes it is manifested in . . .
trying to discover contradictions in God's Word;
a course of open disobedience to His commands;
a life of utter disregard of all religious duties;
striving to put the Creator out of sight;
living as if there were no God;
holding a form of godliness, while the inner spirit of it is wholly ignored.
But in every case there needs the mighty power of the Holy Spirit at first to kindle, and then to nourish, the sacred flame of Divine love. Oh, plead for this!
In the light of this command, let us learn also our need of a better righteousness than our own. Surely it makes plain the impossibility of any self-justification before God. It cuts away the ground beneath every self-righteous hope. Tor tell me, reader, what moment in what hour of your life did you ever love God perfectly, "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might"? Where then do you stand? In spite of any partial fulfillment of duty in other respects — you have been every moment a transgressor of God's holy law — yes, and of the chief command of that law — you have every moment come short of the glory of God. How then can you regard anything that you may have been or done as your confidence before your omniscient Judge?
Suppose we grant for a moment that you have perfectly fulfilled your duty to your fellow man, that you have never injured anyone, that you have loved your neighbor as yourself, that you have incessantly been striving to promote the welfare of others, though in this also you must acknowledge that you have greatly failed. Yet will obedience to the second great command atone for the breach of the first? Will love to the creature, make amends for lack of love to the Creator? You cannot believe it for a moment. Yes, rather, in that you have a heart capable of loving your fellow man — do you not condemn yourself the more for not loving the Great and the Good One? Hesitate not then to take your right position — a bankrupt in Heaven's court, with a debt beyond all power of calculation — and no assets, nothing whatever to lessen the fearful debt.
When thus you come before God — He reveals to you at once the righteousness which He has provided. What you have not in yourself — you have abundantly in Christ. Unloving though you have been — He freely forgives and accepts you through the merits of the Redeemer. He perfectly justifies you, and clothes you with the best robe — and then by His Holy Spirit, He disposes your heart to love Him and walk in His ways.
Ever remember the difference between God's way and man's way of justification. Man says, "I must love God — and then He will forgive and love me." God says, "I am willing to forgive you now, though you have not loved Me — then by my Spirit I will pour out my love into your heart."
First we have justification by faith in Christ, then follows a chain of blessed consequences — peace with God, access into His favor, rejoicing in hope, glorying in tribulations; and one of the most precious — the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit!
Blessed are those who know by experience the truth here taught. Blessed are those who know what it is, in the midst of all unworthiness — to be justified in Christ, and henceforth to love Him who has first loved them.
"O God, who has prepared for those who love You such good things as surpass man's understanding — pour into our hearts such love toward You, that we, loving You above all things, may obtain Your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."