Category Archives: Love

Feasting Upon Christ in the Gospel

  
Then said he unto him, “A certain man made a great supper and bade many.” Luke 14:16

How gospel provision is well represented by a feast:

I. In the expensiveness of gospel blessings. As feasts are expensive and are provided at the expense of the host, so the provision which God has in the gospel made for our souls be exceeding expensive unto [him]. We have it for nothing. It costs us nothing, but it cost God a great deal. Fallen men can’t be feasted but at vast expense. We are by sin sunk infinitely low, into the lowest depths of misery and want, and our famishing souls could not be provided for [but] under infinite expense. All that we have from God for the salvation and support and nourishment of our souls cost exceeding dear. Never were any that were feasted at so dear a rate as believers: what they eat and drink is a thousand times more costly than what they eat at the tables [of] princes, that is far-fetched and dear bought.

Every crumb of bread that they eat and every drop of wine that they drink is more costly than so much gold or gems. God purchased it at no less a rate than with the blood of his only and infinitely dear Son. That holiness and that favor, and that peace and joy which they have, it was bought with the heart’s blood of the Son of God, his precious life. He made his soul an offering.  Christ Jesus obtained this provision by victory. He was obliged to fight for it as it were up to his knees in blood that he might obtain it; yea, he waded through a sea of blood to get it for us.

II. As the guests are freely invited to a feast, so sinners are freely invited to partake of gospel blessings. How much soever the provision has cost God, he requires nothing of us for it. Alas, what should we do if it were required of us to buy those dainties at our own cost? It can’t be purchased with money. “It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies” (Job 28:15–18).

Alas, what can we do towards purchasing of it? What is all our righteousness to purchase such heavenly dainties? No, we can’t purchase it. Any price that we can offer is as insufficient to buy it, as our power is insufficient to create a world.

And there is no need of our endeavoring such an impossible thing as purchasing of this feast. We are freely invited. God will show the abundance of his divine liberality in the bestowment of it. It is to have most abject thoughts of God and of gospel blessings, to imagine that God would sell them to us for our righteousness.

God invites all freely. Thus we read in our context that those that were poor, those that were in the highways and hedges, were invited to this great supper; such as had nothing to pay, and such as did not pretend to it, it was with such that his house was filled, and by such was his feast eaten. In Isaiah 55:1, all that thirst are invited to “come, and buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Where we have the gospel invitations, they are very generally either to food or drink, as it is here. So it is in John 7:37, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.” Revelation 22:17, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

We are so freely invited to this feast, that there is no other condition required of us in order to our partaking of this feast, but accepting of the invitation, and sitting down at the table, and eating and drinking. Proverbs 9:2–5, “Wisdom hath killed her beasts; she hath also mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith unto him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled.” And in Revelation 3:20, Christ promises that he will come in, and sup with us, and we shall sup with him, if we only hear his voice and open the door.

III. The provision God has made for us in the gospel is fitly represented by a feast, because it nourishes the soul as food does the body. Christ Jesus, as applied by the Spirit of God in our enlightening, effectual calling and sanctification, is the only nourishment of the soul. It was he that was represented by the manna the children of Israel eat in the wilderness. ‘Twas he that was signified by the sacrifices which are called the “bread of God” (Leviticus 21:6). John 6:48, “I am the bread of life.”

Receiving of Christ and his benefits is often called “eating” in the Old Testament and New. And this provision is called “bread” in many places.

The grace of Christ Jesus, it nourishes the soul; it gives life and strength to it. Before the soul receives this grace, it is dead. In this it doth more than bread does to the body, that does but preserve the life of the body and revives it when weakened and languishing; but this heavenly food revives men when dead. And it also continues the life of the soul: the soul, after it is revived, would die again, were it not for the continuance of supply of grace and spiritual nourishment. It strengthens the soul as food does the body. The soul in its natural condition is a poor, feeble, languishing thing, having no strength; but the grace of Christ makes it strong and vigorous. And this spiritual nourishment makes the soul to grow, as food doth the body. The supplies of the Spirit of God increase the life and vigor of the soul, increases the understanding, increases holy inclinations and affections; as bodily nourishment increases all the members of the body, makes a proportionable growth of every part…

IV. The spiritual provision of the gospel is well represented [by a feast], because of the excellency of it. We call those meals “feasts”, where the provision is what excels ordinary food.  The provision that God has made for our souls in Christ is exceeding excellent. ‘Tis of the most noble kind: that which is to nourish the nobler part of men, viz. his soul, and that which is most suitable proper nourishment; that which tends, above all that can be conceived of, to give the soul the most excellent life and the most excellent satisfaction: which is evident by what had been already said about the costliness of it, its being what “cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof” [Job 28:15].

Doubtless, that food which cost the Son of God his blood and life is pure dainties, when it is procured. And it is everywhere represented as the richest and most noble and excellent food. It is called the “bread of heaven” and “angels’ food” (Psalms 105:40). So we are invited in Isaiah 55:2 not to “spend money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which satisfieth not,” but to come to Christ, to eat “that which is good,” that our souls may delight themselves in fatness. So this feast in Isaiah 25:6 is called “a feast of fat things, of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”…

V. Gospel provision is well compared to a feast by reason of the abundance and variety of it. There is every kind of blessing for our souls provided in the gospel that we need, so that we may want nothing at all, but may have every regular appetite and desire satisfied and we may be made completely [happy]. There is that which suits all dispositions and tempers, provided they are suitable and not sinful.

There is every kind of thing dispensed in Christ that tends to make us excellent and amiable, and every kind of thing that tends to make us happy. There is that which shall fill every faculty of the soul and in a great variety. What a glorious variety is there for the entertainment of the understanding! How many glorious objects set forth, most worthy to be meditated upon and understood! There are all the glorious attributes of God and the beauties of Jesus Christ, and manifold wonders to be seen in the way of salvation, the glories of heaven and the excellency of Christian graces. And there is a glorious variety for the satisfying the will: there are pleasures, riches and honors; there are all things desirable or lovely. There is various entertainment for the affections, for love, for joy, for desire and hope. The blessings are innumerable…

VI. The measure [of] love of Jesus Christ and of Christians, and of Christians amongst themselves, is represented by the friendship of those that feast together. Feasting together betokens love and friendship. Thus Abimelech and Isaac, when they made covenants (Genesis 26:30). So ’tis from the wonderful love of Jesus Christ that sinners are called to this feast and that he has provided such a feast for them at so dear a rate. This love is without a parallel, and all those that do accept of the invitation that are truly his guests, their hearts are possessed with a spirit of true love to Christ Jesus. They love him above all; he is to them the chief of ten thousands and altogether lovely. There is a great love between Christ and his guests. He and they are one, even as the Father is in him and he in the Father. There is the nearest union and a holy friendship between Christ and believers. They are Christ’s dear ones, his jewels; and Christ is their jewel, their pearl of great price.

And so there is mutual love amongst the guests. Believers are united in heart one to another. Therefore all men know that they are Christ’s disciples, that they have love one to another. They are all united under their host, under their head, Christ Jesus, with whom they sit at his table. Therefore Christ says, Canticles 5:1, “Eat, O friends.” They are Christ’s friends, and friends one to another.

VII. The communion of saints is represented by a feast. The word “communion,” as it is used in Scripture, signifies a common partaking of some good. Thus we read of the communion of the body of Christ and the communion of the blood of Christ, that is, the common partaking of his body and blood. Therefore, as in a feast they all have communion in the same fare with the host and with the other guests, so Christians have communion with Jesus: they partake of the same Spirit, of the same holiness and the same happiness; they are members of Christ’s body and partake of the same life with the head; they are branches in him and partake of the same sap and nourishment with the vine. Christ and believers are partakers of the same Spirit. Christ has the Spirit not by measure, and they have of the same Spirit by measure [John 3:34]. Christ has all fullness of grace in him, and believers have grace for grace [John 1:16]…

Believers also in the gospel feast have communion one with another. They all partake of that one bread. They have one Lord, [one] faith, one baptism. All drink into one Spirit, are all united together by partaking of the same influence of the same head. ‘Tis one Spirit that unites them all, so that they make but one body.

VIII. And lastly, this well represents the joy of Christianity. Feasts are made upon joyful occasions and for the manifestations of joy. Ecclesiastes 10:19, “A feast is made for laughter.” Christians, in the participation and communion of gospel benefits, have joy unspeakable and full of glory, a sweeter delight than any this world affords. We are invited in that forecited place, Isaiah 55:1–2, to come, that our souls may delight themselves in fatness. When the prodigal son returned, they killed the fatted calf and made a feast, and sang and danced and made merry; which represents the joy there [is] in a sinner, and concerning him, when he comes to Christ.

This spiritual feast is compared to a wedding feast. So was the feast spoken of in our text a wedding feast, as appears by the same parable as it is in Matthew 22, [at the] beginning: “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding.” And so it is, Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are they which shall be called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”…

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), “The Spiritual Blessings of the Gospel Represented by a Feast”, Sermons and Discourses: 1723-1729, 279-97.


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Friend of Sinners Forsaken to Save

Psalm 22

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

See also Matthew 27.

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The Antiquity of God’s Love to Believers (The Father’s Bargain)

flavelHence, in like manner, you may be informed of the consistency of grace with full satisfaction to the justice of God. The apostle, 2 Tim. 1:9. tells us, “We are saved according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Jesus Christ before the world began.” I. e. According to the gracious terms of this covenant of redemption; and yet you see notwithstanding, how strictly God stands upon satisfaction from Christ; so then, grace to us, and satisfaction to justice… what was debt to Christ, is grace to us: when you hear men cry out, Here is grace indeed! pay me all, and I will forgive you; remember, how all mouths are stopped with that one text, Rom. 3:24. “Being justified freely by his grace;” and yet he adds, “through the redemption that is in Christ.”

Again, Hence judge of the antiquity of the love of God to believers! what an ancient friend he has been to us; who loved us, provided for us, and contrived all our happiness, before we were, yes, before the world was. We reap the fruits of this covenant now, the seed whereof was sown from eternity; yes, it is not only ancient, but also most free: no excellencies of ours could engage the love of God; for as yet we were not.

Hence judge, How reasonable it is that believers should embrace the hardest terms of obedience unto Christ, who complied with such hard terms for their salvation: they were hard and difficult terms indeed, on which Christ received you from the Father’s hand: it was, as you have heard, to pour out his soul unto death, or not to enjoy a soul of you. Here you may suppose the Father to say, when driving his bargain with Christ for you:

Father. My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls And thus Christ returns.

Son. O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all your bills, that I may see what they owe you; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shall you require it. I will rather choose to suffer your wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father. But, my Son, if you undertake for them, you must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare you.

Son. Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. 8:9. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”) yet I am content to undertake it.

Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, has Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh? O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.

John Flavel (1628-91), exert from sermon, “The Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Redeemer“.

HT: Matt Sliger – referenced in a wonderful sermon on “The Justifying Work of God”

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Good Friday: Divine Love vs Guilty Humanity

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Easter, with the joy at the coming of spring, with all the happiness with which the sun warms our hearts, has become for each of us since childhood a festival dear to our hearts, a festival filled with warm memories from which we do not want to part.  Who among us would want to lose even a single spring from our lives?  But to say that our entire life depends upon Easter, that our existence would be threatened if there were no Easter – who among us would want or even could bear such a thing?  But Paul did indeed say it.   And because he reflected a bit more thoroughly on this question than we tend to do, we may assume that such a statement does indeed harbor a certain meaning about which one might perhaps reflect further.  “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”

Hence, all apparently depends upon our understanding of exactly what Paul meant by the word “raised.”  What does resurrection mean and what can it mean for us?  These are the old Easter questions that we cannot avoid unless we are thoughtless.  The overwhelming phenomenon of perpetually self-renewing spring enables humanity throughout the world to sense something of the primal struggle between darkness and light in which, after intense fighting, light emerges victorious – spring emerges form the dark winter.  Each year renews this colossal spectacle of nature, awakening in humankind an intimation of hope in resurrection.  All that is dark must ultimately become light.  This is a law of nature; indeed, darkness is not really an entity in an for itself; it exists only as the absence of light.  A single ray of sunlight destroys it.  And the sun comes, comes most assuredly, and with it the resurrection of nature.  The seeds of life are already contained in the death of nature.  Indeed, death is not really death at all, but a stage of life that abides in embryonic form within the seemingly rigid bodies.  Life and light must emerge victorious, and death and darkness are merely their manifestations.  These ideas are the common property and primal possessions of humankind, even back to its most primitive spiritual and intellectual life, and it is form such ideas that our own modernized Easter faith draws without noticing that Christianity has far different things to say about Easter.

Easter is concerned not with a struggle between darkness an light, which ultimately light will win in any case since darkness is, after all, actually nothing, because death is already life; nor with a struggle between winter and spring, between ice and sun, but with the struggle of guilty humanity against divine love, or better: of divine love against guilty humanity, struggle in which God appears to be vanquished on Good Friday and in which God, precisely by losing – wins – on Easter.  Is God victorious – or is Prometheus (representing un-Christian cultural piety) victorious?  That is the question that is answered on Easter by God’s mighty deed.  Good Friday is not the darkness that must necessarily yield to light.  It is not the winter sleep that contains and nourishes the seed of life within.  It is the day on which human beings – human beings who wanted to be like gods – kill the God who became human, the love that became a person; the day on which the Holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, truly dies – voluntarily and yet because of human guilt – without any seed of life remaining in him in such a way that God’s death might resemble sleep.  Good Friday is not, like winter, a transitional stage – no, it is genuinely the end, the end of guilty humanity and the final judgment that humanity has pronounced upon itself.  And here only one thing can help, namely, God’s own mighty deed in the midst of humanity from within God’s eternity.  Easter is not an immanent or inner-worldly event, but a transcendent, world-transcending event, God’s intervention from eternity through which God professes loyalty to God’s Holy One and raises that Holy One from the dead.  Easter speaks not about immortality but about resurrection, resurrection from the dead through God’s mighty deed, from death that is genuinely death with all its horrors and terrors, death of the body and of the soul, of the entire person.  That is the Easter message.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1909-45), “3/31 Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:17” in Barcelona, Berlin, New York, 1928-1931, Works Vol. 10, 486-7.

HT: Tony Reinke

Image Credit: Missio Dei Church

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Heaven is a World of Love

 

On this day 309 years ago Jonathan Edwards was born.  He was a pastor, a theologian, and a missionary in colonial New England. Edwards wrote voluminously, preached widely, and pursued God and the truths of his Word vigorously.  He is sadly most popularly known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  While worthy of attention, this one sermon does not adequately represent the mind or ministry of this pillar of the Christian faith.  In fact, he spent much energy writing and preaching some of the most beautiful sermons and books about heaven and the love of God.  In honor of Jonathan Edwards’ birthday and his legacy I would like share a snippet of one of his sermons, “Heaven, a World of Charity or Love”:

[The] God of love himself dwells in heaven. Heaven is the palace or presence-chamber of the high and holy One, whose name is love, and who is both the cause and source of all holy love. God, considered with respect to his essence, is everywhere – he fills both heaven and earth. But yet he is said, in some respects, to be more especially in some places than in others. He was said of old to dwell in the land of Israel, above all other lands; and in Jerusalem, above all other cities of that land; and in the temple, above all other buildings in the city; and in the holy of holies, above all other apartments of the temple; and on the mercy-seat, over the ark of the covenant, above all other places in the holy of holies. But heaven is his dwelling-place above all other places in the universe; and all those places in which he was said to dwell of old, were but types of this. Heaven is a part of creation that God has built for this end, to be the place of his glorious presence, and it is his abode for ever; and here will he dwell, and gloriously manifest himself, to all eternity.

And this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens in a clear day, fills the world with light. The apostle tells us that “God is love;” and therefore, seeing he is an infinite being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love. Seeing he is an all-sufficient being, it follows that he is a full and overflowing, and inexhaustible fountain of love. And in that he is an unchangeable and eternal being, he is an unchangeable and eternal fountain of love.

There, even in heaven, dwells the God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is, or ever was, proceeds. There doth God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, united as one, in infinitely dear, and incomprehensible, and mutual, and eternal love. There dwells God the Father, who is the father of mercies, and so the father of love, who so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son to die for it. There dwells Christ, the Lamb of God, the prince of peace and of love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for men. There dwells the great Mediator, through whom all the divine love is expressed toward men, and by whom the fruits of that love have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all God’s people. There dwells Christ in both his natures, the human and the divine, sitting on the same throne with the Father. And there dwells the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, flows out, and is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the saints on earth and in heaven. There, in heaven, this infinite fountain of love – this eternal Three in One – is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it, as it flows for ever. There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain for ever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love! (Charity and Its Fruits, 326-28)

Our God is love and we do not have to wait until heaven to begin to enjoy and experience it. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through faith we are united to the perfect, loving relationship of the triune God and to all believers of all times and places.  We are to be eagerly awaiting the appearing of our Lord Jesus wherein he will deliver us unto that eternal existence of perfect love but even now we are ,with the love given first to us by God in Christ, to love those with whom God has united us in Christian fellowship, reflecting the perfect love and fellowship that is to come.  As we do this, we will not only begin to experience more of the fullness of God’s love here but we will begin to long for that day when all sin and selfishness will depart and we will see him who first loved us, wounds and all, and dwell with him and all the saints forever.

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The Crushing Weight of Love

[A] mistake that many people make: we tend to read 1 Corinthians 13 as an encouraging, feel-good Bible passage full of happy thoughts about love. Instead, I find the passage to be almost terrifying, because it sets a standard for love I know I could never meet.

None of us lives with this kind of love, and there is an easy way to prove it: start reading with verse 4 and insert your own name into the passage every time you see the word “love.” For example: “Phil is patient and kind; Phil does not envy or boast; he is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Phil bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Phil never fails.” Do the same thing for yourself and you will know how I feel: not very loving at all….

It reads very differently, though, when we put Jesus in the picture. If 1 Corinthians 13 is a portrait of love, then it is really a sketch of the Savior we meet in the Gospels: “Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never fails.”

Paul encourages us to read the Love Chapter in a Christ-centered way by the dramatic shift he makes between verses one to three, where he speaks in the first person, and verses four to eight, where love is personified. First the apostle tells us what he cannot do without love; then he tells us what only love can do. And the reason love can do all these things is that it has become incarnate in Jesus Christ. Jesus is everything that I am not. He alone has “love divine, all loves excelling.” This realization does not crush me; it liberates me, because the love of Jesus is so big that he loves even me. And because he loves me, he has promised to save me, to forgive me and change me. We are nothing without love. But when we know Jesus, who does nothing without love, he will help us love the way that he loves.

Philip Graham Ryken, Loving the Way Jesus Loves, Chapter 1.

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5 Ways the Bible Speaks of God’s Love

5 distinguishable ways the Bible speaks of the love of God:

(1) The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. John’s Gospel is especially rich in this theme. Twice we are told that the Father loves the Son, once with the verb aj gapa ́ w (John 3:35), and once with oile ́w (John 5:20). Yet the evangelist also insists that the world must learn that Jesus loves the Father (John 14:31). This intra-Trinitarian love of God not only marks off Christian monotheism from all other monotheisms, but is bound up in surprising ways with revela- tion and redemption. I shall return to this theme in the next chapter.

(2) God’s providential love over all that he has made. By and large the Bible veers away from using the word love in this connection, but the theme is not hard to find. God creates everything, and before there is a whiff of sin, he pronounces all that he has made to be “good” (Gen. 1). This is the product of a loving Creator. The Lord Jesus depicts a world in which God clothes the grass of the fields with the glory of wildflowers seen by no human being, perhaps, but seen by God. The lion roars and hauls down its prey, but it is God who feeds the animal. The birds of the air find food, but that is the result of God’s loving providence, and not a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the sanction of the Almighty (Matt. 6). If this were not a benevolent providence, a loving providence, then the moral lesson that Jesus drives home, viz. that this God can be trusted to provide for his own people, would be incoherent.

(3) God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world. God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). I know that some try to take kosmos (“world”) here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John’s Gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John’s vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God’s love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of “the whole world” (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God’s love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect.

The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture. However much God stands in judgment over the world, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He orders his people to carry the Gospel to the farthest corner of the world, proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels the sovereign Lord calls out, “As surely as I live . . . I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).9

(4) God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect. The elect may be the entire nation of Israel or the church as a body or individuals. In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others. The people of Israel are told, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7-8; cf. 4:37). Again: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descen- dants, above all the nations, as it is today” (10:14-15).

The striking thing about these passages is that when Israel is contrasted with the universe or with other nations, the distinguishing feature has nothing of personal or national merit; it is nothing other than the love of God. In the very nature of the case, then, God’s love is directed toward Israel in these passages in a way in which it is not directed toward other nations.

Obviously, this way of speaking of the love of God is unlike the other three ways of speaking of God’s love that we have looked at so far. This discriminating feature of God’s love surfaces frequently. “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:2-3), God declares. Allow all the room you like for the Semitic nature of this contrast, observing that the absolute form can be a way of articulating absolute preference; yet the fact is that God’s love in such passages is peculiarly directed toward the elect.

Similarly in the New Testament: Christ “loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). Repeatedly the New Testament texts tell us that the love of God or the love of Christ is directed toward those who constitute the church.

(5) Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience. It is part of the relational structure of knowing God; it does not have to do with how we become true followers of the living God, but with our relationship with him once we do know him. “Keep yourselves in God’s love,” Jude exhorts his readers (v. 21), leaving the unmistakable impression that someone might not keep himself or herself in the love of God. Clearly this is not God’s providential love; it is pretty difficult to escape that. Nor is this God’s yearning love, reflecting his salvific stance toward our fallen race. Nor is it his eternal, elective love. If words mean anything, one does not, as we shall see, walk away from that love either.

Jude is not the only one who speaks in such terms. The Lord Jesus commands his disciples to remain in his love (John 15:9), and adds, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10). To draw a feeble analogy: Although there is a sense in which my love for my children is immutable, so help me God, regardless of what they do, there is another sense in which they know well enough that they must remain in my love. If for no good reason my teenagers do not get home by the time I have prescribed, the least they will experience is a bawling out, and they may come under some restrictive sanctions. There is no use reminding them that I am doing this because I love them. That is true, but the manifestation of my love for them when I ground them and when I take them out for a meal or attend one of their concerts or take my son fishing or my daughter on an excursion of some sort is rather different in the two cases. Only the latter will feel much more like remaining in my love than falling under my wrath.

D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 16-20.

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