The Love of Christ!
William Nicholson, 1862
"May have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge!" Ephesians 3:18-19
The love of Christ is the most interesting subject that can be presented to the contemplation of the human mind. History, science, philosophy, and romance, can furnish nothing like it, to create the interest which it excites. And the reason of the difference is this — the influence, the effects of Christ's love are everlasting! The former awaken our attention only as to this world, but the love of Christ unveils eternity, and points out the glories of that Heaven to which it will shortly introduce its recipients.
The blessings of Christ's love are . . .
The love of Christ is like the ocean. In all ages men have been taking from its waters — yet the ocean remains as full as ever. Just so, men in all ages have been drinking of the stream of Christ's love — yet there remains a fullness that can never be diminished.
As to the influence of this love, it is most powerful. There can be no true and successful gospel exertions without it.
The Love of Christ is an incomparable subject.
The love of Christ is manifested by his voluntary engagement to become the sin-atoning substitute of guilty and ruined men — entering into their circumstances, enduring the penalty of the law, and fulfilling all the great purposes of his mission to effectuate man's redemption. "Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it." Ephesians 5:25-27.
This love is described by height and length, and depth and breadth.
It is as high as Heaven above, to which it exalts us.
It is as deep as Hell beneath, from which it saves us.
It is as long and broad as our spacious world.
It is as lasting as eternity!
1. The essential dignity of Christ. The love of Christ is the love of Deity.
Strong is the love of man to man — and under the influence of grace, mutual Christian love shall exist forever.
Great is the benevolence of angels. They rejoice over one sinner that repents. They are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation. Poor, diseased, and neglected, as wan Lazarus — yet they conducted his spirit to Abraham's bosom. "They shall gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other!" Matthew 24:31.
But the love of the text, is the love of "God our Savior." The love of men and of angels, is the love of created beings. The love of Christ, is the love of their Creator, the Creator of all things. The Divinity of Christ is vital to our faith and hope, and that Divinity makes his love so great, so unsearchable, and past finding out!
Is creation his, as the work of Deity? "Without Jesus nothing was made that was made."
Is providence his? "By him all things are held together."
Has he universal dominion? "He is Lord of all!"
Is he God Almighty? "I am Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end!"
Is he omniscient? "All the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds!" Revelation 2:23
Is he omnipresent? "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst."
Is he the self-existent? "You are the same, and your years shall never end!"
Is he the eternal? "His goings forth are of old, from everlasting."
Is he to be loved? "If anyone does not love the Lord — a curse be on him!" 1 Corinthians 16:22
Is he to be trusted? "Believe on the Lord Jesus," etc.
Is he to be adored? "Let all the angels of God worship him."
And the Scriptures throughout connect Deity with the manifestation of Christ's love:
"The only wise God our Savior."
"The great God, even our Savior."
"Immanuel, God with us."
"The everlasting Father, the mighty God, the Prince of peace."
"Look to me, and be saved; for I am God, and there is none else."
"This is the true God, and eternal life."
"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us."
This love then is the love of the Deity. How great then must it be! Christ is God; and he who would fully know his love, must be able to span immensity, and to grasp the Infinite himself!
Christ's Divinity is the ground for the efficient performance of his Mediatorship. His is the love of omnipotence, and cannot be ineffective. His is the love of "the Mighty God," "traveling in the greatness of his strength!" The broken law — the insulted Majesty — the sword of inflexible justice — the wrath of God — and the vengeance of eternal fire — all shall be triumphantly met by him. "He shall send forth judgment unto victory."
The Divinity of Christ's love is the ground of the saint's confidence. When guilt strikes its sting into my conscience; when my heart is cast down within me; when I am in earnest for salvation, and say, "What must I do to be saved?" insult not my anguish, trifle not with my despair, by pointing me to a mere man, a creature as myself. No, you angels! there is not one of all your shining ranks to whom I would commit the care of my immortal spirit! Not all your angelic wings could waft me to the sky! You could not, with all your power, free me from sin. There is not one among your thrones, dominions, etc., able to "open the book of redemption, and to unloose the seals thereof." None, none but the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, Immanuel, God with us, none but he can save.
2. Christ's love appears in his condescension to assume human nature.
He came "from Heaven," he "came into this world!" What a contrast, between Heaven and earth!
In yon Heaven the first-born sons of light had adored and praised him in the loftiest strains. What a contrast, between the songs of the cherubim and seraphim — and the insults and blasphemies poured out against him by the vilest of sinners!
In that Heaven he managed the affairs of the universe — in this world he took upon himself the "form of a servant," and served sinners. He came not to earth in his essential glory; that would have consumed the guilty, and convulsed the world. No, he dismantled himself of his glorious splendor; he laid aside for a season the most resplendent glories of the Godhead, and condescended to appear in fashion as a man, in the likeness of sinful flesh. Philippians 2:6-8. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."
His prayer for the glory which he had before the world was, indicates both a pre-existent glory, and a future glory. But there is an interval between them; an interval of darkness extending through his life. That was the duration of the total eclipse of the Second Person in the Trinity. And O how deep the obscuration — when compared with the ineffable splendor of the glory from which he came, and the glory into which he was received!
Contemplate Christ as now glorified. Behold him as the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne. Listen to the loud acclamations of Heaven: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" Revelation 5:12.
And then look at him in the human nature, esteemed as a root out of dry ground, etc. See him standing silent, bearing shame and insult, at the bar of a creature, and that creature a sinful man. Behold him submitting to the lowest expressions of ignominy and contempt from other sinful men — and measure the depth of his love by the depth of his humiliation. "He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!" Philippians 2:7-8
Who can conceive the greatness of this love? Tell us what was the glory he had before the world was — tell us of the magnificence of the place where he dwelt! Tell us of his sensations produced by his transition to earth — by the enshrinement of Divinity in a human body — of his sensations produced by poverty, hunger, thirst, obloquy, and persecution to the death! Tell us this, before you can fully comprehend the love of Christ!
3. Christ's love appears in freely offering himself as a sacrifice for sin, which involved unparalleled sufferings and an ignominious death. "You shall make his soul an offering for sin."
The wages of sin is death — and his love shrank not from the full and solemn satisfaction required. It was death in the sinner's place. It was attended with anxious forebodings. "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!" Luke 12:50
How often did he advert to the coming hour — that hour that would derive its fearful emphasis from his suffering unto death! It was the endurance of the curse for man. Then that curse must have been felt by him; it was more than a mere apparent infliction. The real fact is declared by the Apostle; "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears!" Hebrews 5:7
Behold him in Gethsemane! He is sore amazed! He sorrows unto death. An invisible hand smites him. The sword of divine justice begins to pierce through his heart. He speaks in fear and agony: "Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me!" yet he himself drinks it all away.
What must have been the distractions of his mind — the rendings of his heart! So acute was his agony, that it deranges the organization of his veins! The warm blood flows from every pore, and falls to the earth. Under the weight and pressure of his sorrows, he falls to the ground.
But the work is done. Judas and his train come to apprehend him, but he lifts himself up into Divine majesty, saying, "If you seek me, let these go their way." "For this end came I into the world."
Follow him to Golgotha, and behold him on the cross — the shameful cross — the instrument of torture designed for the most vile malefactors. See his sufferings! See his shame! Then was the prophecy fulfilled: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint," Psalm 22:14, 15. "Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst." Psalm 69:20, 21.
This language expresses the extremity of his sufferings. It is no indication of unwillingness or retraction. No! on that cross he is resigned and calm, but determined to win the spoils, while he is indifferent to the horrors of the crucifixion.
They torment him,
they mock him,
they reproach him,
they blaspheme him,
but he is not discouraged. Though drowned in sorrow, he is full of majesty. The soldiers seized his vesture, and the people wagged their heads in derision, but he was not dispirited!
He prays for the forgiveness of his murderers.
He beseeches Heaven for his mother.
He throws open the gates of Paradise to a malefactor.
And then he begins to die.
The veil rends!
The rocks shiver!
The sun darkens!
The earth trembles!
The grave yawns!
The dead are startled to life!
And now he who had not opened his mouth for a sigh or a groan, utters his bitter complaint.
It is not at man — he can destroy man!
It is not at Hell — he defies it!
O what is that complaint? Be astonished, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! His death-dirge points against the very heavens! "My God! my God! Why have You forsaken Me?"
Can you comprehend these mysteries . . .
the baptism of blood,
the last mysterious agony,
the complaint of being forsaken of God?
You cannot. They transcend all your thoughts! The love which made him stoop to them, is therefore love "which passes knowledge."
4. The love of Christ is displayed in dying for sinners.
"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes!" Romans 3:10-18
Ponder this description of man's character, so odious and repulsive. He is a rebel, dark, impure, and an enemy to God by wicked works. The nature of man is deeply impressed and impregnated by sin.
Now look at man's nature:
As to his intellect — he hates truth and loves error.
As to his will — it is rebellious and ungovernable, spurning the control of God himself.
As to his affections — they love that which they ought to abhor, and hate whatever is morally excellent and lovely.
As to his temper — he is fierce, malignant, and cruel.
As to truth — he is hollow and hypocritical.
As to benevolence — he is selfish.
As to humanity, in many cases — he is unfeeling, hard, and cruel.
There was not a favorable trait in man's character! Everything is hateful and repulsive; and yet Christ loved him and died for him!
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!" Romans 5:6-8
O unparalleled love! A man may be induced to die for his beloved friend. David may wish that he had died for his son Absalom. But who would die for a thief, a rapist, a murderer? But Christ died for the chief of sinners — for murderers! His love was mercy in opposition to every disgusting quality. That love was unsolicited. Did our first parents ever sue for admission into the Divine favor? They are never seen with clasped hands and prostrate knees. They flee! The fugitives hide themselves in the trees of the garden. Ah! this love was unmerited and unsolicited.
5. The love of Christ appears in the great and innumerable blessings which it secures.
It turns the wrath of God away from man.
It turns the curse into a blessing.
It gives man access to God, and communion with him.
It absolves all his sins, and delivers him from all condemnation.
It renews his nature, causing him to resemble God.
It invests him with the fellowship of the saints, the love of the Almighty Father, and the hope that is laid up in Heaven.
It gives him . . .
the protection of Omnipotence,
the guardianship of angels,
triumph in death, and
admission to Heaven.
"All things are yours." "God is now able to make all grace to abound to you." 2 Corinthians 9:8. "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus!" Philippians 4:19. "Where sin abounded — grace did much more abound!" Romans 5:20
The benefits of Christ's death are beyond all estimate!
Then what must be the greatness of his love? You could tell, if you could number, in those realms of light, the myriads who will finally be placed there as the fruits of it — but they are a multitude which no man can number, and their voices are as thunder, and as the commingled sound of the countless swellings of the waves of many waters.
What is the value of Christ's love? You could tell, if you could describe the ecstatic bliss of the heavenly harpers — if you could measure that overflowing ocean of joy, and those exalted pleasures which are at God's right hand forevermore. You could tell if you could describe the "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" — and that crown of life destined to grace the head of every saint.
Here then is "the love which surpasses knowledge." Do you think to comprehend it? Do you think to bring it down to your mind? First, "take the waters into the hollow of your hand, and mete out Heaven with the span, and comprehend the dust of the earth in a measure, and weigh the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance!"
1. What a ground of hope for the penitent sinner!
2. What a source of joy for believers!
3. The rejection of such love involves the deepest guilt!