The Love of Christ as Distinguished From the Love of God.
by J. Charleton Steen
THE expression "Love of Christ" only occurs five times in the New Testament and is found as follows:
1. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ" (Rom. 8: 35);
2. "And to know the love of Christ" (Ephes. 3: 19);
3. "As Christ also loved us" (Eph. 5: 2);
4. "Christ loved the Church" (Eph. 5: 25); and
5. "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Cor. 5: 14).
The expression is unique and must not be confounded by the truth taught in the "Love of God." In the earliest years of the writer's Christian life, he was taught as an essential unto "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15); to always recognize the different phrases, or words, used by God, the Holy Spirit, when He dealt with subjects apparently similar, as conveying different shades of meaning and different lines of teaching. This is a most important axiom, the grasping of which will mean so much to one as "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed."
A Fundamental Distinction.
In our study of this subject, I want you at its very threshold to differentiate between "The Love of God" and "The Love of Christ." The former embraced the whole Adamic race and so embraced them that He gave His Son. The latter encircled the Church, and so loved her that He gave Himself.
In the consideration of this great theme, I will ask you to turn with me to Ephesians 5: 25, and as we read, the first important question to be settled is, "What is the Church?" The understanding of this truth is absolutely essential, if we are to have right conceptions of what is meant by the "Love of Christ." The original word, translated church, is formed from a preposition meaning "out of," and the verb "to call." Therefore, the Church is a called out company of people. The Lord in Matthew 16:18, calls her "My Church" and there speaks of her as a future thing which He will build. There had been a Jewish church in the Wilderness (Acts 7:38) called by Nehemiah (13: 1): "The church of God," but the Lord was not speaking of a builded church which had been or was then, but of a church which was to be. Note the future tense of the verb, "I will build." She is presented to us in the New Testament under various symbols, viz.: "A building" (Matt. 16: 18; Eph. 2: 20); "A new man" (Eph. 2: 15); "His body" (Eph. 1: 23; 1 Cor. 12: 27) "His bride" (Eph. 5), "The mystery of God" (Eph. 3: 4; Col. 2: 2, R.V.); "A city" (Rev. 21: 9, 10); but whatever is the symbol used, it is speaking of the same people who are the saved of this dispensation through faith in Christ Jesus. He began to build her at Pentecost, when, having received of the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit, He shed Him forth (Acts 2: 23,) that in one Spirit, believers might be baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12: 13, R.V.). This great truth and work have been the secret of the ages (Rom. 16: 25; Eph. 3: 5). Note, not that Gentiles should be brought into Jewish blessing, but that Jew and Gentile should be brought upon new and heavenly ground, possessing an holy calling with heavenly blessings, character and destiny, built into a Church, destined from eternity to be the bride of the Lamb, having all the love of His everlasting espousals lavished exclusively upon her, destined to share His throne, inheritance and glory, and to be His help-meet through the everlasting ages. This special and absorbing affection of Christ for her is also seen in the illustration used. "Husbands love your wives as Christ also loved the Church" and if this "love of Christ" is not exclusive and inclusive, there can be no meaning in the commanded relationship and fidelity of husband and wife (Eph. 5: 25).
The Church, a Unique Company.
I think we have seen clearly from the passages referred to that the Church of Christ is a unique company, composed of the saved of this dispensation, from Pentecost until His coming as Son of God, who have put faith into Him, and that from it, all saints of a past dispensation or dispensations which may follow this, are excluded. The statement that "He loved the Church and gave Himself to God for it" is full of great and blessed comfort to us. He loved the Church. When? Before ever she was actually formed, yea, before "eternal times" (Rom. 16: 25; 2 Tim. 1: 9). He did not love and die for what was not. In the purposes of God, she was a complete unity and in His Book, all her members were written when as yet there were none of them, and the day they should be fashioned was also written (Ps. 139: 16). She was ever with Him in a past eternity, for her, He became incarnate and for her, He remains incarnate. In the darkest and blackest moments of His passion, He is heard to cry, "Deliver My darling," i.e., "My only one"—"from the power of the dog." (Ps. 22: 20.) For her, He lives and pleads at God's right hand, for her, He is coming again and as the day of the nuptials draws near, His heart throbs with the perfect and sinless passion of an eternal love and joy, when to wondering worlds, He shall display, that He and she are one. In the pursuance of the object of His great love, Calvary was one of the stages of His journey. We read that Samson set his affections on a Gentile bride, or woman of Timnath; in seeking her, a great lion crossed his path. Would it turn him aside from the bride of his choice? It met him, it roared against him, but its very roar was its destruction.
In the consuming passion of His eternal love, in pursuit of His Gentile bride, there loomed between the Christ and her, the blackness and darkness of Calvary, the untold agonies of Golgotha, the wrath of His God and the hidings of His face. Is His love equal to such a test? Praise His name, it is stronger than death, even the death on the Cross, and if Calvary did not, nor could not separate her from His love, we can triumphantly shout, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ! Alleluia!!"
He loved the Church and gave Himself to God for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her (v. 26, R.V.). What a note of praise is here! "He hath cleansed her," not that He will, but He has. Let our hearts respond:
"Clean every whit, Thou saidst it Lord.
Shall one suspicion lurk?
Thine truly is a faithful Word
And Thine a finished work."
Cleansed her! Glory be to God, yes! Done is the work that saves. When He had by His Own blood purged our sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1: 3).
He Who has gone into the innermost shrine of God's presence for her, first "purged her sins with His Own blood" for her, the great sin and sins question is settled forever. The great atonement is not a Calvary, is not a dying and crucified Christ; all this He was, but is a living Saviour concerning whom in the glory God says, "He is the atonement" (1 John 2: 2). Yes, the weakest believer can say, "My sins, not in part but the whole, were nailed to His Cross, and I bear them no more." Yes! He is the great sin purger, the great serpent crusher, my Kinsman Redeemer, Christ eternal; Christ incarnate. Christ enthroned. Faith cries out "Eternal lover; Oh, how sweet to call Thee mine."
Christ and the Church, One.
He Who loved the Church and cleansed her, now lives to sanctify her and in this connection, we are comforted with those words, "He that sanctifieth and they who are being sanctified are all out of one, for which cause, He is not ashamed to call us brethren" (Heb. 2: 11). All out of one. Just as the mercy seat and the cherubim were out of one piece of solid gold taken and by beaten work, made the mercy seat and cherubim, not a join, not tenoned or in any way fastened on, but "out of one." So is Christ and His Church. Therefore, He is not ashamed to call us brethren. Reverently we ask, How could He be one? For we are one. To be ashamed of His body is to be ashamed of Himself. His Church is His completeness (Eph. 1: 23). This entire and precious truth concerning God's present work is covered by two words, words which are unique in the eternal counsels, unique in the eternal operations, and unique in the eternal ages, exclusive of anything God has ever done in a past age, or will do in an age to come, only true of "His Mystery" and covering His present operations therein and therewith, the words are these—"In Christ." No Old Testament saint there, no tribulation saint there, but reserved in all the nearness and dearness they convey for the bride of His choice, the espoused of His heart, the sharer of His throne, and the companion and help-meet of His eternal glory.
The Marriage Day.
When the day of her nuptials arrive, which may be any moment, He will present her to Himself, the Church glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (v. 27).
This is a glorious outlook for faith, not a spot or blemish, but:
"Precious as the blood that bought her,
Perfect as the love that sought her,
Holy as the Lamb that brought her
Inside the vail."
Not only will there not be found in or upon her a stain of defilement or a blemish of sin, but there will not be seen or known a wrinkle of decay.
The word used in the book of Revelation for Lamb is a word peculiar to that book, in fact, only once used outside of it, a word that means a little or tender, in the sense of a young lamb, the fulfillment of Ps. 110. "Thou hast the dew of Thy youth." John says, "Come and I will shew you the bride, the young Lamb's wife" (Rev. 21: 19). She, too, has the dew of her eternal youth; not a stain of defilement, not a wrinkle of age, but the young bride of the young Lamb throughout the eternal ages.
"Meet companion then for Jesus,
From Him, for Him made,
Glory of God’s grace forever
There in her displayed."
"Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the Image of His Son" (Rom. 8: 29). "We look for a Saviour, Who shall change the body of our humiliation and fashion it like unto the body of His Glory" (Phil. 3: 21). "When He shall appear, we shall be like Him" (1 John 3: 2). From these scriptures, we gather that when the day of His glory breaks, we shall be like Him not only spiritually but also physically. The old tottering saint, on crutches, of over seventy years old, who cried, "I will soon be thirty-three," was voicing a great fact in the eternal counsels regarding the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
Returning again to our chapter, we read a blessed yet startling revelation. "For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as Christ the Church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (Eph. 5: 29, 30). We quite well understand the human and literal side of the metaphor here used. How tenderly and affectionately we care for our own body, especially so if one member gets injured or diseased. We may not show the same feeling and gentle handling of another's flesh, if called upon to administer to its needs in suffering, but our own gets every consideration, because it is our own, yea, our very self. "So also the Christ, the Church" for we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. There is perhaps no time in a believer's life when he is more tempted to doubt God’s love than when passing through physical suffering, weakness and disease. Satan is very near at a time like this and he is not slow in whispering the suggestion, "Does it look like love?" If he could only get us to doubt the love of Christ, what a triumph! Then is seen the power and preciousness of this great truth: Why, He can only love me for no man hateth his own flesh, and when He loves me, He loves Himself, for I am part of Himself and all that I am passing through is simply His nourishing and cherishing Himself.
"Every pang that rends the heart
The Man of sorrows has a part."
Dear saint of God, ever remember this truth, whatever may be the furnace of your affliction; His it is as truly yours, and His is the greater suffering, for He is the Head. In the human body, if you could only sever the suffering member from the brain, it would be painless. Indeed, this great operation is frequently done, but thank God, no power on earth or hell can sever the weakest and most remote member of Christ's body from the risen Head.
Up to this point, we have simply touched the fringe of the "Love of Christ." We now will seek grace to consider its great and final test in which it shines the more gloriously.
We continue to read verses 31 and 32: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." The quotation is from the building of Eve (Gen. 2:24). What is the "great mystery"? Surely not a man leaving his father and mother and being joined to his wife. There is no mystery in that. The great mystery is, that Christ should leave His Father and cleave to His wife, that He and she should become eternally one. There is great comfort to my soul in the fact stated that it is the man that cleaves to the woman and not the woman to the man. It is not my feeble grip of Christ, my weak cleaving to Him, but it is His mighty cleaving in a deathless love to me that gives me assurance and joy and leads me ever and anon to cry out, "O faithful, eternal Lover."
Eve Fell By Deception, Adam By Affection.
We have now reached a point in our study that, in order to more fully grasp its meaning and worth, we must go back to the garden scene of Genesis 3. There were Adam and his wife. Into the garden the tempter came. He did not go to the man. Why? I gather from 1 Timothy 2: 14 that Adam could not be deceived—figure of the Coming One, but he went to the woman and if ever a soul on earth was deceived, she was. She truly believed the lie, obeyed, ate and died.
Now comes the great test. What will Adam do? He, standing in his innocency, unfallen and with his Father sees the wife of his adoption, the gift of His God, lying in misery, bondage and death, with a yawning gulf separating them forever. Being only a living soul, unlike the last Adam, Who was a life giving Spirit, he could not quicken her. Will he cleave to his Father or will he leave his Father and cleave to his wife? "For this cause shall a man leave, etc.," so he deliberately, undeceived, yet consumed by his love, left his God that he might cleave to his wife. She fell by deception. He fell by affection. His love for her was so great that he descended to her level and became partaker with her of her ruin and death.
What a picture have we here of the last Adam Who, without the sin, left his Father that He might reach and cleave to His bride, not cleave to her in her sin and shame and become thus like her, but that He might impart to her His Own life and lift her to His Own level and glory.
Our adorable Lord in His consuming passion stooped. Yes, stooped from heights no finite mind can scale, to depths no finite mind can fathom, but He "stooped to conquer." Let us look for a little at this recorded stoop as we have it traced in Philippians 2, this leaving and cleaving of the Christ, and remember, it was not only a stoop for time but, O matchless Lover, it was for Eternity! Here we are in the "Holy of the Holies" in the very presence of the Shekinah and we would seek for grace to tread reverently and softly.
"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held fast equally with God, but emptied Himself and took the form of a slave" (Phil. 2. 6, 7. R.V.). "Held fast" is the correct meaning of the original word, badly translated, "robbery." The word translated "form" means "actuality." Was He the very form of God? Then He took the very form of slave. Here we have the first step in the descent of His long, weary and costly search for His bride. It is tremendous to even contemplate. From very God to very slave, what an emptying! He Who was co-equal and co-eternal with God, and God now of His Own voluntary will, makes His choice, makes it for eternity. He emptied Himself. Will He hold fast His equality with God? If He does, He and she are separated forever. Will His love stand the awful and eternal stoop? His was a love for which, if a man offered all he possessed, it would be utterly contemned. So for her sake, He empties Himself and takes the lowest possible place, the place of a slave. What means it, O my soul? It is love out-loving itself, but surely it is:
"Love that no tongue can teach,
Love that no heart can reach,
No love like His."
The Infinite Stoop.
My Saviour, adored and adorable, hast Thou stooped low enough? Surely Thou hast. No, not yet. I have not yet bottomed the terrible depths of her fall.
He was made in the likeness of men. As I trace the humiliating steps of His terrible descent into her abyss of ignominy, shame, woe and death, I would seek by God’s help to guard His holy humanity from being misunderstood. "Man's likeness," what does it mean? Does it mean just like me? A thousand times "No." The word likeness is used three times in the New Testament. "Likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8: 3). "Likeness of men" (Phil. 2), and lastly, "Likeness of His death" (Rom. 6: 5). This last quotation gives to me the true meaning of "Likeness of men." Note, baptism is said by God to be the likeness of His death. Would anyone suggest that it was His death, or even approaching a sameness of His death? Thus, as baptism cannot by any possible stretch of imagination be made to mean the same thing as His death, no more can His spotless, untainted and untaintable humanity be made the same as mine. In His humanity, there was the great mystery of Godliness. God manifest in the flesh—not God and man, but God-man, "Immanuel—God with us," our great Saviour, but also, and at the same time, "our great God" (Titus 2: 13, R.V.). He was the "seed of the woman." Here His humanity and mine part company. Again, He was immaculately conceived, called by God "that holy thing." As He lay in the manger, God’s testimony of the little babe is, "He is (note the present tense of the verb) Christ the Lord" (Luke 2: 11). "He knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5: 21); Did no sin (1 Peter 2: 22). Had no sin (1 John 3: 5). As holy on the Cross as He was in His life. As Holy in His life as He was in the manger and as Holy in the manger as He was in the Godhead. "That holy thing," the incomparable God-man, a humanity which knew no taint of sin, no seed of mortality, taintless and untaintable, sinless and impeccable. The One concerning Whom God said, "I have laid hold on One Who is Mighty," Satan’s conqueror, crusher and creator, the stronger than the strong man, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace, and my Redeemer.
My Saviour adored, hast Thou not in the humiliating stoop of incarnation reached her yet? Can she not be linked with your perfect humanity and thus be lifted to your plane? No. She lies deeper still, further removed yet. No union nor oneness possible in incarnation. And being found in "man’s fashion," He was a real man. 'Weary, hungry, sad, knowing throughout His life what poverty meant, suffering by His perfect sympathy, suffering for righteousness sake, suffering as He came in contact with sin and its concomitant evils, the terrible suffering of anticipation, for He was the only man born with the express object to die, and last of all, suffering as a sin bearer on the Cross. Surely in all points, sin apart, He was tempted like as we are (Heb. 4: 15). Note "sin apart." He never knew the temptations of sin.
The Deeper Descent.
Being found in man's fashion, He did not reach her. He must descend lower still if He is to get to her level. Therefore, as man, He empties Himself and becomes obedient unto death, even death on a Cross. Halleluia! At last He has reached her. He has got to where she lay. He has taken her guilt, curse and shame, as His Own. He carries it to Calvary, and there, instead of her, He pays the terrible price. She dies in Him, there dies to live. She is buried with Him. Quickened with Him, raised with Him and seated in Him at God's right hand. She died with Him to live with Him, and when He Who is her life shall appear, she shall appear with Him in Glory (Col. 3: 4).
As we trace the terrible descent of the Son of God and knowing all we know, yet we must say:
"None of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were those waters crossed,
Or how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His Church which was lost."
Thank God, His love was stronger than death, waters could not quench it, floods could not drown it, Calvary, dark Calvary, could not separate her from it.
But we have not yet seen that love finally tested. Let us still seek for grace to consider Him.
The Final Test of Christ’s Love.
"Then cometh the Lord, when He shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God . . . and when all things shall be subdued unto Him that put all things under Him, then shall the Son Himself be subject, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15: 25-28). Here we have the eternal subjection of the Son. What does it mean? It is the final test of His love.
In order to understand it, let us read together the law of the Hebrew servant as we have it in Exodus 21. There we find that the term of his service was seven years, perfect and complete service. He can then go free, yea, as free as his master. If he brought a wife in with him, she can go out with him, but if his master gave him a wife, he must go out alone. Then comes the test of his love. If he says, "I love my master, my wife, my children, I will not go out free," then he is taken to the door post, his ear bored, and he serves forever.
Our adorable Lord is the great antitype, the perfect Hebrew servant. "Behold My Servant, Whom I uphold, Mine Elect in Whom My soul delighteth" (Isa. 42: 1). These words were applied to Christ when He came up out of the waters of baptism in Matthew 3.
The time comes in His service when He has completely fulfilled the Father's will and completely finished His work. When the great purposes of servitude are accomplished, He can go free, back into God's form and God’s equality. But His bride, what of her? He cannot take her back into God's form or God’s equality. She cannot go free. He came in by Himself, His Master gave her to Him. If He goes out, He must go out alone. Now comes the greatest test of all, the final and eternal test. Listen O my soul, in breathless suspense listen. Will His love, the love of Christ, stand the test? He speaks: "For her I became a man, a slave. For her I died a malefactor's death. For her I made atonement, her sins I bore, her life I quickened. I lifted her from the lowest depths of shame and hell itself to the highest heights of my acquired glory. My vast possessions and wealth inherited by Me as man glorified, I hold and value for her sake alone, that I might lavish them upon her forever. She is life of My life, soul of My soul, joy of My joy, My glory and My crown. For her I wore the crown of thorns. I endured the fierceness of Thy wrath. Because of her, I carry with Me My death scars into My everlasting rest and count them amongst My most precious possessions. No, I love My Master, I love My wife, I will not go free. For her, I became a man, a servant, for her I remain a man, a servant, forever. I have her in My Own image, sinless and impeccable and throughout the eternal ages she shall be by My side.
"She and I in that bright glory
One deep joy shall share,
Hers to be forever with Me,
Mine that she is there."
Very feebly and imperfectly, dear reader, have I tried to unfold the meaning of those words "The Love of Christ." I think you can now more sincerely enter into the meaning of the apostle when he cries, "The Love of Christ constraineth me." May it so constrain us that we render to Him a love for a love, a life for a life, a heart for a heart!
"Oh Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe.
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer. fuller be."