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Love so Amazing, so Divine
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.” It was preached in the 1940’s and re-published as one volume (formerly in five Volumes) in 2002 by Crossway Books.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 JOHN 4:9—10
IN THESE TWO VERSES the Apostle continues with the theme of the vital importance of brotherly love. We have seen that he considers this theme in terms of his great proposition that ‘God is love’; it is from that base that his whole appeal to us to love one another arises. Now here he continues with this same subject, this vital importance of our loving one another, we who claim to be Christians; and John proceeds to deal with this by elaborating that fundamental postulate of his that ‘God is love.’ He has told us that God is essentially love---not only that God loves us and that God is loving, but that God’s very nature is love. As God is light, so God is love; and His holy love is something that covers the whole of His life and His every activity.
But now the Apostle is anxious to remind us that God is actually manifesting that essential nature of His. He is love, but mercifully for us He has ‘manifested’ that love, He has made it unmistakably plain and clear. So we can put John’s immediate argument like this: ‘If only you really understood this love, if only you knew something about it, then most of your problems and difficulties would immediately vanish.’ So he proceeds to tell us something further about this great and wondrous and glorious love of God.
Surely we all must agree that this is something that is equally true of us. The more I study the New Testament and live the Christian life, the more convinced I am that our fundamental difficulty, our fundamental lack, is the lack of seeing the love of God. It is not so much our knowledge that is defective but our vision of the love of God. Thus our greatest object and endeavour should be to know Him better, and thus we will love Him more truly. Now John’s object is to help these first Christians to whom he writes in just this way, because he is quite sure that once they love God, they will love one another.
That is something we find running right through the Bible; the second commandment follows the first. The first commandment is, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.. . . And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Matthew 22:37, 39). But you will never do the second until you have done the first; so we must start with the love of God.
Now in these two verses we have a sublime statement of this. You notice how reminiscent this is of John 3:16: ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ It is just a variation of that. It is a wonderful statement concerning the love of God, but at the same time it is a perfect summary of the gospel. Indeed, I want to go further and suggest to you that these two verses together are a perfect and complete synopsis of Christian theology. And I am particularly anxious to emphasise that last statement. You notice that John does not content himself with just saying that God is love; he does not leave it at that. John says that the love of God can only be understood in the light of certain vital truths, and those truths are highly theological.
Let me explain what I mean by that and give my reasons for putting it in that particular form. I think this is a statement that needs to be repeated and emphasised at the present time, because the great tendency in this present century has been to put up as antitheses the idea of God as a God of love on the one side, and theology or dogma or doctrine on the other. Now the average person has generally taken up such a position as follows: ‘You know, I am not interested in your doctrine. Surely the great mistake the Church has made throughout the centuries is all this talk about dogma, all this doctrine of sin, and the doctrine of the Atonement, and this idea of justification and sanctification. Of course there are some people who may be interested in that kind of thing; they may enjoy reading and arguing about it, but as for myself,’ says this man, ‘there does not seem to be any truth in it; all I say is that God is love.’ So he puts up this idea of God as love over and against all these doctrines which the Church has taught throughout the centuries.
Now that is something which must be faced and faced very frankly. Indeed, is it not true to say that men have not only put up this idea of God as love over the doctrines I have mentioned, but they have gone so far as to say that they are not interested in the doctrine of the person of Christ? ‘The one thing that matters,’ they say, ‘is that God is love. Jesus of Nazareth was a great teacher, but when you talk about the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth---I am not interested in these refinements. All I know is that Jesus was a wonderful man, and He taught us that God is love.’ So this idea of God as a God of love has been used as the argument of all arguments for denouncing doctrine and theology.
But all that, according to these two verses which we are considering here, and according to the whole of the New Testament, is an utter travesty of the Christian truth and position. According to these two verses, people who thus put up as opposites the idea of God as love and these basic, fundamental doctrines can, in the last analysis, know nothing whatsoever about the love of God. Is it not interesting to observe that it is John, whom people like to call the Apostle of love, who is the one who outlines the love of God in this particular way and manner? It is as typical of his Gospel as it is of this first epistle; it is John who explains the love of God in this highly doctrinal and theological form.
The vital question which we must ask ourselves is this: How do we know that God is a God of love? What is the basis of our knowledge? What is my ultimate sanction for saying I believe that God is a God of love? ‘All I am interested in,’ says the average man, ‘is that God is a God of love and that He will forgive my sins.’ But how do you know that He will forgive your sins? What right have you to say that you believe that God will do that? Oh, how easy it is to use these expressions; but let us stop and ask the question quite simply: What is my authority, and how do I know?
I suggest to you that there are only two ultimate answers to that: You are either basing it upon your own or somebody else’s philosophical conception of God, or you are accepting in simplicity, and as they are, the very statements that are made in the Bible concerning God and His love. I do not think that it is at all difficult to prove that the average person, and especially the kind of person of whom I have been speaking, bases his whole idea of a God of love solely upon his own thoughts. He has no proof if he denies these facts and doctrines. He says that he believes what he says he believes, but he cannot prove it---he has nothing to substantiate it. He believes it, and he says that others have said it, and therefore it must be the case; but as to any final, ultimate proof, he has none.
Now the Bible itself actually does teach us that God has manifested Himself and His love in different ways. God has manifested His love in creation; the very act of creating the world at all must have been a manifestation of it, and this is seen in the order and arrangement which we see in the world. In the same way you can deduce the love of God from Providence. Certain things that happen are indications of it. Indeed, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ once put it like this: ‘[God] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45). The love of God, then, is something which is manifested in God’s providential care for and dealings with mankind.
But the great statement of the Bible from beginning to end, and especially the great statement of the New Testament, is that the love of God is only to be seen finally, and to be known truly, when you look at what God has done for us and in us in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the great theme of the Bible. The Old Testament is a book that looks forward to the coming of Someone. It is God’s gracious promise that a deliverer, the Messiah, is going to come; and in the New Testament you have an account of how He came and what He did.
This is something which is absolutely essential. The love of God can only be finally understood and appreciated in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is what God has done in Him and through Him that ultimately reveals it all. ‘In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ That is the manifestation of the love of God, says John, and here again is a compendium of theology, a synopsis of doctrine. There is no greater theological statement in the whole Bible than these two wonderful verses.
John does not say, ‘God is love’ and then pass on to something else. He says, ‘If you want to know anything about love, you must realise these truths, because it is in this way that God has manifested His wondrous love to us. Apart from these things, you know nothing about love.’ But let me go further. The love of God, I maintain, is only understood and felt in terms of theology, and to reject the theology is to reject the love of God and to be bemusing ourselves with some hypothetical and imaginary love. ‘In this was manifested the love of God,’ and here we have John’s exposition of it.
Having, therefore, emphasised that fundamental attitude, let me attempt with reverence to look at this glorious and sublime statement. Would you like to join ‘with all the saints,’ as Paul puts it, in trying to measure and estimate ‘the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:18- 19)? This is how John proceeds. We are, of course, attempting the impossible. We are going to measure the immeasurable; we shall try to plumb the depths that no man can ever reach; we shall ascend the height which no man can ever aspire unto; and yet, says Paul, let us do it. And as we attempt to do so now, let us be guided by the Apostle John.
His general proposition is this: God’s love has been manifested in what He has done for us or in us in the Lord Jesus Christ. So let us start in the depths; let us start to look at the love of God and attempt to measure it by looking at ourselves. You will never know the love of God until you know yourself. We will never appreciate the love of God until we know the startling truth about ourselves apart from Him and about His wondrous grace. God, we are told, has loved us. Why? Has God loved us because we are lovable? Has He loved us because we are such kind and wonderful people, so deserving of His favour?
Consider the answer of the Apostle John in these two verses: the love of God, let me emphasise it again, is only to he understood theologically. Here is what we are told: God sent His only begotten Son that we might live through Him; from which I deduce that apart from Him we are dead, and that is the fundamental statement about man as the result of sin which runs right through the Bible. ‘You hath he quickened,’ says Paul writing to the Ephesians, ‘who were dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1). All of us, apart from Jesus Christ, are in a state of spiritual death. We not only lack a knowledge of God, we lack an understanding of spiritual things; the great spiritual faculty that God gave man at the beginning is lying dormant. As a result of sin we have no life in us; we do not live, we exist. Read the first three verses of Ephesians 2, and there you have it: ‘And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.’ Dead---dead to God and to His spiritual qualities---dead to everything that is truly uplifting and ennobling---living according to the course of this life and of this age---an existence in a state of death. This is what John says---namely, that Christ came that we might live through Him; without Him we are dead.
But not only that. According to the Bible, far from being lovable and loving, men and women by nature hate God. ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God’; that is, it is not the case that we in our natural state loved God and He responded to our love. The picture of the Bible is not that people are ever seeking for God because they love Him. That is the popular theology---that men and women are seeking God and that God responds to their request. Not at all! ‘Not that we loved God, but that he loved us.’ People, by nature, do not love God. According to the Bible, by nature and as the result of sin and the Fall, they are enemies of God. ‘The carnal mind’---the natural man---‘is enmity against God,’ says Paul; ‘it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’ (Romans 8:7).
Is all that not the simple truth, and must we not all confess that by nature and apart from the light we have had in the gospel of Jesus Christ, when things go wrong the feeling is one of enmity? We are enemies, aliens, strangers, at enmity against God. ‘God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners. . . . For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. . .‘ (Romans 5:8, 10). That is the picture that is given of man; dead and hating God; far from loving him, but rather feeling opposed to Him; and because of all that, man by nature is under the wrath of God and deserves the punishment of God for his sins. That is Paul’s statement, and it is the statement of the Bible everywhere.
We are, let me remind you, trying to measure this amazing love of God, and that is the first measurement: men and women down in the dregs and depths of sin, deserving nothing but wrath, and with nothing to be said for them. And the whole argument of the New Testament is that until we see that that is the simple truth about us, we do not begin to know anything about the love of God. That is the first step in measuring it.
But let us go on to the second. Let us proceed immediately from the depths right up to the heights. We have seen man. Now let us look at God and see what He has done, and the astounding thing we are told is that God has ‘sent His only begotten Son into the world.’ That is the central message of the New Testament, and indeed of the whole Bible; it is about a person called Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Who is He? John has been talking about Him; his whole message is about this person, and this is what he tells us about Him: He is God’s ‘only begotten Son.’ The original reads like this: ‘In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.’ His Son---His only begotten Son. That statement means that this person has a unique kinship with God. It is John’s way of saying that Jesus Christ is none other than the eternal Son of God, co-eternal, equal with God, dwelling in the bosom of God, the effulgence of God, one with God, the second person of the blessed Trinity.
But, you see, John puts this in another form: God ‘sent’ His Son. So if Jesus Christ is someone who has been ‘sent’ into the world, he must have existed before. None of us have been sent into the world. We are born into this world, but here is someone who was sent from somewhere else. He existed before, in eternity. His birth at Bethlehem was not the beginning for Him. He began His earthly course, He came, He was sent from heaven. That is another way of estimating the love of God. God has manifested His love towards us in that He, there in glory, has sent from heaven, with its eternal bliss and absolute perfection, into this world His only begotten Son. We cannot fathom this---it escapes us. But can we try to imagine something of what this means. God, we are told, ‘sent’ His Son; He asked Him, His only begotten Son, to come into this world, consisting of men and women such as I have already been describing. ‘In this was manifested the love of God,’ that out of heaven He ‘sent His only begotten Son,’ the one who is in His own bosom.
Fathers and mothers, does this mean anything to you? Think of your own love to your children and multiply it by infinity, and that is God’s Father-love to God the Son; and yet He sent Him into the world. So you know nothing about the love of God unless you believe the doctrine of the Incarnation. Believe me, you cannot talk of the love of God dwelling in you unless you know that Jesus of Nazareth is the unique and only begotten Son of God. If you are uncertain about the person of Christ, you have no love of God in you---you are fooling yourself. You must not put the love of God as an opposite to the doctrine of the person of Christ. He is the God-man; all the miracles and the supernatural power, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily. Understanding the person of Christ is absolutely essential to understanding the doctrine of the love of God.
But let us pause there. From the heights let us come down again to the depths, and let us glance for a moment at what the Lord Jesus Christ has done. We have said that God has ‘sent His only begotten Son’ from heaven; but He sent Him, John says, ‘into the world.’ 0 blessed be His holy name! The Son, the only begotten Son, came into this world. We are measuring the love of God---and this is the way to measure it. Look at the world into which He came. You remember His birth and what we are told about it. This is the sort of world that the eternal Son of God, who had come from heaven, came into: There was no room for Him and for Mary and Joseph in the inn. The selfishness of mankind was such that even a woman in this condition did not get a room and had to go into a stable; so the Lord of glory was placed in a manger in a stable. That is the sort of world He came into; a selfish, grasping, self-centred world in which every man is out for himself.
You also remember the story of Herod and the massacre of the innocents---all the malice, envy, hatred, and bloodshed. And, oh, the poverty into which He came! They could not afford to give the price of the highest offering for Him; they had to offer the two turtledoves---they could not afford any more. He was born into a very poor home; he knew something of the squalor and the need that accompanies poverty. And for thirty years He lived a very ordinary life as a carpenter, mixing with ordinary people. Can you imagine what it must have meant to Him, the Lord of glory, the eternal Son of God who came out of God’s eternal bosom, to see sin firsthand? To look at the ugliness of evil and sin and see it face to face? The shame of it all and the foulness of it all! We are measuring the love of God, and that is the measure of it. How could He in all His purity and holiness ever come from heaven and live for thirty years in the kind of world in which you and I are living? How could He have done it? How could He stand or bear it?
Then watch Him in His ministry, teaching His pure, loving, holy doctrine, seeing the opposition that arose. Look at the people looking at one another, asking their questions, trying to trip Him—the cleverness they display in trying to pull Him down. Look at the scheming; look at the treachery even among His own friends; look at Him deserted by all His disciples; look at Him on trial; look at the crown of thorns they put upon His holy brow---that is the world into which He came. ‘In this was manifested the love of God . . . that God sent his only begotten Son into the world.’
But more, he sent Him, we are told, to be ‘the propitiation for our sins.’ What does this mean? Here, of course, is the great classic doctrine of the atonement, and it means that he sent Him into this world in order that He might become the sin offering for us. It means that God ‘hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). It means that Jesus Christ is not only the priest, but He is also the offering, the propitiation, the sacrifice offered. God sent Him into the world in order that God might punish our sins in Him. He has made His Son the sacrifice; it is a substitutionary offering for your sins and mine. That was why He was there in the Garden sweating drops of blood, because He knew what it involved---it involved a separation from the face of His Father. And that is why He cried out on the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ There we see the love of God not only in the world He came into, but in the propitiation, the sacrifice, the substitutionary death, so that you and I might be delivered. Herein was manifested the love of God, that God sent His only begotten Son to death, to the cruel shame and agony and suffering of the cross, to be made sin for us who Himself knew no sin and so was innocent.
But thank God, it did not stop at that. He raised Him again from the dead and thereby proclaimed that the sacrifice was enough, that the law was satisfied, and that everything was complete. I say again, you do not begin to know anything about the love of God until you see that if Christ had not died on the cross in that way, God could not forgive sin. I say it with reverence: that is God’s way of making forgiveness, for without the doctrine of the atonement you do not understand the love of God. Let me beseech you, never again put the love of God and doctrine as opposites. It is only in this way you understand the love of God. There is the depth again.
But let us once more rise from the depths to the heights; let us rise with Him in resurrection, and let us look at what He has meant to us as the result of that. Christ died---that is what we are told; He has been made ‘the propitiation for our sins.’ In other words, as the result of what He has done, God forgives us for our sins; by His death we are reconciled to God in Him; we have redemption through His blood. The blood is essential; never speak about it as if it were something that is legalistic. ‘In [Him] we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins’ (Colossians 1:14). In Him we are reconciled to God, pardoned, forgiven, and restored. Yes, and even more, God sent His Son into the world, that we might live through Him. We receive the gift of life; we begin to live, because He came. We are given His nature; we are given His power. He becomes One who resides in us; we live in Him, and He is in us; we live through Him. There we again rise to the height.
That is what God has done for us in His love through Christ—pardon, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation, life anew. We begin to live in a new world, and we see new possibilities. We know something of His mighty working in us and the power which operates in us. That is how the love of God is manifested, that He sent His Son, and the Son has taken hold of us and, as Paul puts it, has ‘raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 2:6). But shall we dare to venture to rise still higher and to the highest height of all?
Finally, why has God done all this? Why has God had anything to do with such creatures as men and women, dead in trespasses and sins, rebels---hating Him, being against Him, turning His world into a living hell? Why did God ever even look on them, let alone send His only begotten Son to them, and even to the cruel death and shame of the cross, making Him a sin offering? Why has God done this? What led Him to do it? What is this love of God, and wherein does it consist? ‘Not that we loved God, but that he loved us,’ moved by nothing but His own self-generated love. Though we are what we are, ‘God is love,’ and His great heart of love, in spite of all that is in us, unmoved by anything save itself, has done it all.
I do not know what your feeling is at this moment, but I will tell you what mine is. I cannot understand the hardness of my own heart. How could any of us look at all this and believe it and not be lost in love to God? How can we contemplate these things and not be utterly broken down? How can any hatred remain in us? How can we do anything but love one another as we contemplate such amazing love? How can we look at these things and believe them and not feel utterly unworthy and ashamed of ourselves and feel that we owe all and everything to Him and that our whole lives must he given to express our gratitude, our praise, and our thanksgiving? Oh, let us resolve together to meditate more and more every day upon this amazing love. Look at it in terms of yourself, in terms of God, what God has done, what Christ has done. Go over these things; study them; read the Bible about them; examine them. Go on looking at them; contemplate them until your heart is broken and you feel the love of God possessing you wholly. ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’ (429-439)
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