THE WONDERFUL LOVE OF GOD
As used here, the term "world" does not mean the globe of earth on which we live, but the race of humankind. The term is often used in this sense. The "world" and "the whole world" are often used to signify the people who live in the world, the human race as such. The term "perish" in this passage does not mean "annihilation." Perish is manifestly put in contrast to everlasting life, and is the opposite of it. As the term is used here, "everlasting life" is not merely eternal existence. I do not believe that the term is ever used in that sense in the Bible. Whether everlasting existence will be a blessing or not depends upon the state in which individuals exist, whether in happiness or misery. Under some circumstances, everlasting existence might be anything but a blessing.
The everlasting life spoken of here means an everlasting living with God in heaven--an eternal existence combined with perpetual happiness. Now, "to perish" means the opposite of this. To perish is not annhilation or a mere ceasing from existence, because often to annihilate would be no evil to the individual on whom the sentence should be inflicted. To a wretched person, annihilation would not be an evil at all, but a favor. In short, it is very plain that to perish is the very opposite of everlasting life and means what is expressed in everlasting death or a state of endless punishment.
THE OBJECT OF GOD'S LOVE.
The object of God's love was the world; not a part of it, but the whole world. There is no reason in the nature of things why one part of the human race should be loved more than another part. Observe, God's love was not exercised to saints as such. His love for the world had no respect to the character of people. He loved the world of sinners. He exercised His love toward them. God loved everyone as a race, as sinners, even though they were His enemies. All were sinners, and there is no reason why part of the race of sinners should be loved and not all of them. The same kind of love which could possibly love a part, of necessity from its very nature loved the whole. A universal love is the only love which could have been exercised toward people by a good being.
THE NATURE OF GOD'S LOVE.
God's love could not have been complacency or a delight in the character of people, for there was nothing in the character of the human race that could permit God to love people or take any delight in their character--that is most certain. God could not have loved our race with a complacent or satisfied love; for that would have been to make Him infinitely more wicked than they were themselves. What is implied in loving a wicked being? Why sympathy with his character is implied. God could not have loved the world with a complacent love without being infinitely more wicked than the world, because for an infinite being to sympathize with wicked natures, he must himself be infinitely wicked. Certainly, God's love could not have had any respect to the character of people. They were not loved for their character. That would have been impossible.
God's love could not have been mere emotion, for emotion does not influence the life without the will. Emotion is not a cause. Even intense emotion will not give existence. Emotion is a merely involuntary state of mind--something which belongs to the passions. It will often be a motive to action, and may be a stimulus to the will, but mere passion never caused anything. Causality is that which produces and lives in the will of every moral agent, and is a very different thing from emotion.
God's love was not fondness for particular persons. There was no reason in God's nature, and no reason in man, why God should exercise any such fondness. Neither was His love an involuntary love, as is manifest in what He did. It must have been voluntary, because we have here before us the evidence of its efficiency. And it was an efficient love because it was voluntary love.
God's love for the world was not an unreasonable state of mind. There was, to be sure, nothing in the character of our race to allow God to have a complacent love, yet it was not an unreasonable state of mind. His love was not prohibited by reason. We sometimes see wholly unreasonable affections among people. We sometimes see deep affection in the form of what we call love existing among people in a way that is totally opposite to reason. But there was some good reason for this love of God--something which His own understanding and conscience sanctioned. There was something about people which rendered it reasonable for God to love them with a certain kind of love.
The love which God actually did manifest was the only kind of love that could have been important to the world. If the love of God had been mere emotion or pity, it would have done people no good. This love, then, must have been a reasonable affection. It must have been a reasonable love. Now when we look at the nature of this love, if we do so in a simple and reasonable manner, there can be no doubt of what the real nature of this love was: it was good-will or benevolence. This is evident from the fact that it exerted itself for the good of the objects in a most striking and wonderful manner. Clearly, it was good-will because it produced good action.
God's love was an unselfish kind of love. The reason God loved the world was not because people deserved that He should do them good--for they deserved only evil at His hands. God had a good reason to love them, but they had no right to demand His love as a matter of justice. They had forfeited all claim to His affection or protection; therefore, justice did not demand that God should do them good.
Our souls are so valuable, our happiness is so infinitely important and our misery is so great an evil, that God, looking at the intrinsic value of our souls, saw good reason for loving the world and doing us good. That is, God did the good for the sake of the good itself. He willed good to the world for the sake of the intrinsic and infinite value of this good to the world considered in itself, and not because people at all deserved it. The world not only had no claim upon God for His love, but God had great reasons for destroying it. Yet, so great was the value of our souls, so much did He pity us in view of the world's coming and certain destruction, and so greatly did He love our happiness and desire it, that overcoming all obstacles in the way He rose above any disposition to punish us or retaliate upon us for our wickedness, and sought only to do us good. There was good reason for this, as I have said, not in view of the actions of our race, but in consideration of the value of their souls.
God's love was a disinterested love. He did not propose any selfish interest to himself as the reason why he should do this thing--it was His love of the world. It was a disposition to do good. It was the love of our good that led Him to do it. He did not propose to benefit us so as to secure to himself in any selfish sense any great good--it was a totally disinterested love. As a matter of fact, He did enjoy it himself, and yet it was a totally disinterested love, and so much the more will it glorify Him. Just in proportion as He aimed to secure the world's interest with a single-eye, in just that proportion did He secure His own approbation and the admiration and glorification of all holy beings. By disinterested love, I do not mean that He had no interest in it, for He had an infinite interest in what He did, but I mean that His love was wholly unselfish--He sought to do good because of the value of the good itself.
God's love must have been a love of amazing strength. It could not have been a feeble state of mind. It must have been infinitely intense! Just think of it! "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son!" What a wonder this was! On the one hand, we have a world of enemies who were at war with him; and on the other, we have His beloved and only begotten Son. Now just consider this: conceive of a state of mind that should prefer to give that Son, that only begotten, well-beloved Son, to die for those rebels who stood with the weapons of rebellion in their hand. They had revolted against His government and deserved His frown and wrath. His own conscience clearly affirmed that they deserved to be banished from His presence. Yet, such was His estimate of the value of their souls, of the dreadful sufferings to which they would be subjected if the penalty of the law should be inflicted upon them, that He gave His Son rather than banish that world of rebels from the glory of His power to die in their guilt.
No person, unless he ponders these things well, will understand how intensely strong this love must have been to produce such a determination as that. If he can, let a parent who has an only child that has never offended him, the very darling of his soul, one he loves as well as he loves himself and has reason to love, think if he could give up his child for the good of his enemies. Could he let people abuse him and do everything to injure him that they possibly could? Could he let them place themselves in a position as obnoxious as possible so as to deserve his indignation and condemnation, without his utter rejection and abhorrence of them forever? Conceive, if you can, of a state of mind that could deliberately make such a choice as God did. Think of the intense nature of God's love.
Now think, if you can, with your son on one side and your enemies on the other, what struggles would be produced in your mind by reflecting upon the fact that these enemies must perish forever or you must give up your son! You see that your son has a willing heart, that he is ready to undertake their deliverance from death--that he is willing to take all that is implied in being their Savior. But the case demands that you consent to it, that you enter into it with your heart, and that you say to him, "Go." When we realise what God must have felt under such circumstances, we must understand the intense nature of that love that could overcome the state of mind that would naturally cleave to His Son, but then give Him up for the good of the world.
Just conceive how many things there must have been against God's loving the world and sending His Son into the world. God knew what it would cost Him. His Son must pass through trial, affliction, persecution, poverty, and agony. His Father saw every trial and every suffering that He would have to undergo--He saw Him heavy in sorrow and despised--He saw Him too in the garden, when He sweat as it were great drops of blood, so great was His agony--this was all present to the divine mind when He gave up His Son to be the Savior of the world. The Father saw His Son weary to fainting as He carried His cross up Calvary's hill, so that His barbarous persecutors were compelled to lay the burden on another. He saw Him mocked and pierced when on the cross and saw Him in the agonies of death, and heard His lamentable cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" What a nunber of scenes must have clustered around the divine mine to forbid the gift of His Son for the salvation of a guilty world. Yet so great was His love that He overcame all these obstacles and freely gave Him up for us all, that we might not perish but have everlasting life. Let this idea take possession of your mind.
God's love was for enemies, not friends. Observe, all the world was contemplated, and God gave Christ to die for sinners-- a race of sinners. Observe, Christ did not die for a Christian, as such. God gave His Son for sinners. Now, keep this fact always in mind, Christ did not die for good people, but for bad people. God did not give His Son to die for the righteous but for the wicked.
God's love was a forbearing love. Some seem to think that when we talk of the self-denial of God we imply that He is sometimes selfish. Now let me say, self-denial always implies the very opposite of selfishness in any being. It is the consenting to give up some good or to endure some evil for the benefit of others. No individual, of course, can exercise self-denial who is living in selfishness. Now, this was self-denial in God to consent to deny himself by giving up His Son. It must have been greatly trying to His feelings to consent to give up His Son to die for the world.
Naturally, God's love was a universal love. It was not love to the human race alone. It extended to other worlds. No doubt, it was in reference, in a great measure, to other worlds that led Him to take the course He did take in forgiving sin in this world. It was the good of His universal kingdom that led Him to take this particular measure.
His love is a holy love. So, God hates sin. In as much as His love was exercised toward sinners, it was very important that He should do something to make the whole universe understand that He was not conniving in their sin. Indeed, this was the grand and most material point. As everyone can see, His love was manifested to sinners. How could He sufficiently guard against the impression that He connived at their sins? He had to express His great love for sinners by laying himself out to do them good without appearing to approve of sin. How could He make it known that He was as much opposed to their sin as He had professed to be, and as the universal conscience demanded that He should be?
Very often it is a delicate thing for human governors to manifest love and benevolence to rebels against the government. It is a very delicate thing for governments of great and extended empires to manifest deep and anxious love for those who are enemies of the law and who have defied it. There is also much danger that the justice of the law will be thrown into the shade, that respect for the law shall be lost sight of, and that the sin involved in the rebellion should be forgotten. Now, there was infinite danger of this in the government of God; therefore, it was necessary that while pardoning the sinner, He should as much as possible show His opposition to sin, and thus manifest plainly to the world that He did not connive at their sin.
God's love was just, as truly as it was merciful. That is, God's love was just to the universe. There were other interests besides the interest of sinners in His government. There were reasons why He should not endanger His authority and let down respect for His law. Justice to the universe demanded that God should be careful how He expressed the great and infinite love which He had in His heart toward sinners.
THE REASONS FOR GOD'S LOVE TO SAVE US.
God's love sought to compass the world's salvation. He sought to save those that deserved to die, and He resorted to the measure of giving His only begotten Son for sinners--a wonderful measure! Now, plainly, the reason for this must have been anything but ill-will on the part of God.
God's love, more than anger at sinners, led Him to give His Son. To be sure, in one point of view, He had a holy indignation at their sins, but this anger did not lead Him to give His Son. He gave His Son in spite of this just and holy indignation at their sins. A holy, merciful disposition led God to require Jesus Christ to die for sinners. God was disposed to be merciful. His disposition to mercy was the secret of the whole matter. This was the grand foundation of the whole arrangement. This was the very reason God undertook to save sinners: He loved them and was disposed to show them favor. It was not, then, the lack of a merciful disposition on God's part. It was not hatred, but love of sinners. Here we see the one great reason that led God to show mercy to sinners. There was one great reason in the Divine mind, the fundamental reason, His love for sinners.
Now notice, God resorted to this measure of giving His Son to secure the good of the world for several reasons. Since He did not retaliate upon them for all their opposition to Him, there must have been some very weighty reasons, and some reasons that needed to be overcome, but which could not be overcome by any other measure than the one which was actually adopted. We ought always to remember that God acts rationally, for wise and good reasons. Therefore, let no one suppose that He resorted to any unnecessary measure of severity in the atonement. No one can rationally suppose that God resorted to any means that could have been avoided in the nature of the case.
God set His heart upon wise means, and means that were demanded by the circumstances and the occasion, to save sinners. Let us look at some of God's reasons for the particular means He used. His reasons must have been sanctioned by the law of benevolence or they would not have been virtuous. If the means He chose had not been sanctioned by the eternal laws of God's own reason, He could never have resorted to them. The circumstances called for the atonement.
Look at the subject--humankind had resisted the government of God, had denied the justice of His law, to which even the angels conform, and which is absolutely necessary to secure the well-being of the universe and their own salvation. If God had seemed to connive at man's disobedience of His law, which was the law of the entire universe, all other beings might have denied the justice of the law and disobeyed it also. Observe, therefore, the whole universe, all the inhabitants of heaven, had a strong interest in maintaining God's law. Now mark! God's law had been disobeyed: a public lie had been told and persisted in. The justice of the law had been in a most deliberate manner denied by man. Now what was to be done? It is evident that something must be done which cannot be construed into a connivance of this rebellion.
Observe the relations of humankind and God. God's law had been trampled down, and the whole universe had its eye upon God to see what He would do. The well-being of the whole universe depended upon His actions. His relation to the universe demanded that He either execute the law or demonstrate on His own part, from His own heart, His regard for the law. The universe needed His estimation of the value of His law. He must act, and every- thing depended on the course He took. The honor of the law must be fully sustained by God himself. He must show the whole universe His approbation of the law for the public good. Such a demonstration must achieve the same end as the execution of the penalty of the law upon the offenders. So, God took upon himself human nature, and in this nature of both God and man, He stood right out before the whole universe and yielded obedience to its precepts. This showed the high regard He had for the law, the highest that He could possibly give in any way whatever. By taking upon himself the nature of the violators of the law, and in that nature obeying the precepts of the law, and then suffering the penalty for sinners' violation of the law, God's demonstration was complete and the law was perfectly honored.
Jesus Christ, His eternal Son, in this way stood forth as the representative of the race of rebels, having no sin in himself and yet standing in such a position as if the sin of the whole race was summed up in Him and the whole rebellion centered in Him. In this way God could pardon sinners and yet honor the law. Jesus Christ stands as the representative of the world, as the representative of sin. This arrangement in the atonement was a great deal more impressive than the execution of the law would have been upon the rebels themselves. The lawgiver himself stands forth as an illustration of the beauty of His own law and in vindication of its honor.
It is perfectly easy to see the bearing of this measure upon the universe itself. How perfectly it met the government exigency and made it quite safe for God to pardon the guilty.
THE NATURE OF FAITH.
Think about the motive that moved God to make an atonement for sin through His Son. I have heard some people talk of the atonement of Christ and of God's motive in such a way as to indicate that if they really believed God had this motive they could not respect Him. They speak of the atonement as not involving a merciful disposition of God. They speak of the atonement as the exacting of a debt, that God required a certain amount of payment for every sinner before He would forgive them. They do not see that the atonement was the result of a merciful disposition in the heart of God.
The Bible teaches that God gave His Son to die for sinners from love for them, and that they receive the blessing of forgiveness by exercising faith in Jesus Christ. God's love gives faith its power. Just let a sinner understand that God loves him as a sinner, and if there is anything that can break his heart that will. I do not mean to say that knowledge of this fact will invariably do it; but I do say that if this does not do it, nothing will do it. In short, the profession of love to sinners must be realized and believed by them in order to their salvation.
Many overlook the nature of God's love because they cannot conceive how God can love sinners. I know, because I stumbled at this point for a long time. I had loved; I knew what the term meant in some of its significance. I knew what it was to have complacency in those whose characters I admired. I knew what the love of fondness meant as it exists among selfish beings, but this was the only kind of love that I had exercised; therefore, I could not understand how God could love a wicked man. It appeared to me impossible for God to love a sinner. I said to myself, "If God can love a sinner, He must be a sinner." Do you think God can be a sinner! Of course not! You see, I had judged God by my selfish love. Yet, the love that I exercised implied some fellowship and sympathy with the being loved. At last the Holy Spirit enabled me to understand that God could love people without exercising a selfish love.
A great many people speak very loosely when they speak on this subject. They do not understand the nature of God's love to sinners--the selfish mind cannot comprehend it. When a sinner first becomes convicted of sin, he thinks that it is perfectly impossible for God to love him. And he is ready to exclaim, "He cannot love me any more than He can love the devil." And in part that is true. God cannot love the sinner with a complacent and sympathizing love any more than He can the devil--not a bit more. But there is another view of this subject, which is very important for you to take. There is a kind of love to which you, a sinner, are a stranger--the love of your enemies. "O," you say, "what reason have I to love them!" Why, you have the same reason to love them that God has--exactly. God does not love with a complacent love, which implies sympathy with their characters. But do not mistake, sinner, He can love you with a love of which you have no conception. The kind of love that God will exercise is just that kind which you ought to exercise towards your enemies; and in order to receive this love you must rise entirely above your selfishness, and give yourselves up with right good will to seek their good. Now the fact is, because you never exercised this love you cannot understand its nature. But God can rise above--ah, He never was in the selfish slough which your soul is in. He is not filled with the spirit of retaliation which you feel; therefore, although He sees and knows all the guilt of the sinner, He can yet look upon him with compassion and lay himself out with all His heart to save Him.
But let me say once more: the fact is, sinners mistake the nature of God's love, and so they try to make themselves happy. They always suppose that they must do something to deserve His love. If you ask them to come to Christ, they say, "I must do more; I must become better; I must pray, I must do this thing or the other thing to deserve His love." They have, you observe, the idea of complacent love. They think they must deserve it before they have it. They want to feel that they deserve it. The sinner never will believe that God loves him as a sinner. But let me tell you sinner that this is all wrong. You can never deserve God's love in the sense in which you hope to possess it--and if you seek to deserve it thus you will never be saved.
Remember, as a sinner, Christ died for you. As a rebel, God gave His Son to die for you. Just as you are, in your sins, God loves you. And for you, as a sinner, He gave His Son to die for you. This is what you must believe. You will find it difficult to believe, but it is absolutely necessary that you should do so. Let the idea take full possession of your mind. Say to yourself, "I do not need to try to render myself deserving, if God loves me now just as I am! Christ died for me as a sinner. As a sinner God loved me, and loves me still. As a sinner, then, I will go to Jesus. I will go, not as a deserving sinner, but as a seeking, humble, penitent, sinner." Will you come! Will you come now! Will you believe now! Or make God a liar!