I have loved you
by Inglis Fleming
“I have loved you, saith the Lord” (Malachi 1:1-2).
Such was the “burden” of this prophet. He was “the messenger of the Lord.” This is the meaning of his name, and the message he bore had this for its summary, “I have loved you, saith the Lord.”
Of “the messenger” himself we know nothing. His parentage is untold, his history is unwritten, his birth-place and burying-place are undiscoverable.
But his message remains for the comfort of God’s people in all time, and we may learn from it that which will encourage our hearts even if in the depths of self-despair.
Internal evidence would point to the prophecy having been uttered about the period during which Nehemiah ruled in Jerusalem, and found sadness of heart because of the condition of the remnant returned from Babylon. The messenger of the Lord does not mince matters in his denunciation of the state of priests and people, but with clarion note sounds out their sin and warns them of the results of their evil ways. Nevertheless the deep underlying “burden” is Jehovah’s love, to which, alas! the people were so little responsive. Still He loved them in the face of all that they had shown themselves to be. He loved them and would love them still in spite of themselves.
Do we ask, “Why did Jehovah love Israel?” The answer is not far to seek. Deuteronomy 7:7-8, supplies the reason. Moses shows the people that it was not because they were a great or remarkable people that Jehovah had loved them. They were only a poor and feeble little company, “the fewest of all people,” and they were not to be wise in their own conceits. The Lord set His love upon them and chose them just because He would do so. They gave Him no reason for His love. The reason was in Himself. Thus the love remained in spite of their weakness and waywardness. It was an everlasting love wherewith He loved them. Chastened sorely the nation might be and was, but it was ever the hand of love which wielded the rod. Dark indeed have been the depths to which Israel has fallen, and desolate in truth is its present condition, but the love of Jehovah to them nationally abides, and out of their degradation and distresses they will yet be delivered. And so in the close of the prophecy we find Jehovah’s promise for their future, “The Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings,” and Israel shall “go forth and grow up” and flourish. Jehovah will yet in His unchanged love show Himself strong on their behalf and they shall be blessed.
From all this we who believe during the time of Israel’s casting off may take the greatest comfort. The Lord has loved us because He has loved us. Knowing all that we were and all that we should be, He loved us. There was no “because” on our part, the “because” was with Himself. Because He was love He loved us. Because He is love He loves us still. We have learned more and more of the evil of our sinful nature as the days have sped past, and it may be have had to prove the folly of our wilfulness; but amid all this His love has remained unchanged, for He loves because He loves.
We love Him because He first loved us. He has given us a reason to love Him. Our love is responsive to His, it is but the echo of His own. And poor indeed at best is the love of His own to Himself.
The history of Israel’s failure has been repeated in the history of the failure of the church of God. What the Lord Jesus said of the church of Ephesus is true of the church as a whole, “Thou hast left thy first love.” The warmth of affection towards the Son of God which was so manifest at the beginning has waned and faded. Amid outward activities which might commend them in the eyes of others the Lord’s holy gaze discerns that the spring of love is lacking. The whole character of their service is impaired. Love loves love. His love seeks our love and can never be content without it, we may give the whole substance of our house instead, but all would be utterly contemned—contemptuously disregarded—by Him who seeks the true beating of our hearts towards Himself.
Then as we further trace the course of the church’s time history as sketched in the seven epistles to the churches in the province of Asia (Rev. 2-3) we see that matters go from bad to worse, until in Laodicea we find the Lord knocking outside the door. As it has been well said, “That He is outside shows what the church is—that He knocks shows what He is.” The church has changed, alas! but He is unchanged still. It has left its first love, and journeying down grade has become indifferent to Christ, lukewarm as to that which concerns His honour and the glory of His name. BUT HE HAS NOT LEFT HIS FIRST LOVE. He is not indifferent to the needs of His own. The love of the Saviour abides, and we hear the love note sounding amid the darkness, “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.” The hand of love knocks at the closed portal and the voice of love asks for entrance.
He loves with an everlasting love and so with the cords of love would draw His loved ones to answer to Himself.
David of old could say, “I love the Lord because He hath heard my voice and my supplications.”
Little did he know of all that has now been revealed—of all the wealth of blessing which love has lavished upon us in this day of fullness of privilege. But what he knew drew out his heart in praise and adoration.
And can we be silent? Shall we not sing and sound His worthiness and yield to Him the glad worship of our hearts. As we look at the cross of Calvary and see all that love has thought and wrought for us, our hearts must be moved to say, “The Son of God . . . loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “Christ hath loved us and given Himself for us.” And in response say with the Psalmist, “I love the Lord,” and with the apostle, “We love Him because He first loved us.”
Soon will the day dawn when He who is active in His love towards us now will “rest in His love and joy over” us “with singing.” His unchanging, undying, unfathomable love will then have brought us into His own presence and into conformity to Himself in glory. And in perfect complacency that love will delight in its own work eternally and display to all the universe what divine love can effect, saying to us then as now:
“I have loved you, saith the Lord.”