1 John 4:7-19
God is Love
I will ask you, first of all, to turn to the third chapter of the Gospel of John, and again read a verse you well know: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (v. 16). There, from the lips of the incarnate and only begotten Son of God, we have this magnificent statement as to the measure and the character of God’s love. It is not there stated that He is love, although that is blessedly true. That is stated in John’s epistle more than once—“God is love” (4:8, 16).
Now, God did not talk love, He loved. Love does not talk, love acts. I do not say that love does not speak, but I mean love does not merely talk, love acts. And here the blessed Son of God, Jesus the incarnate Son, says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” What led God to give His Son? Love. What did the Son of God bring into this world? Love. What is found, incarnate in this scene, in Him who was the only begotten Son? Love. Love that would give up everything in order to accomplish the will of God, in order to make God known, in order that the world should not perish. And you must understand, dear reader, by the world here, the whole scene where God was not known, and where God was not loved.
I know a great many people say, “God loved the world, that means the righteous world, the good world, the holy world, and the world that goes on as it ought to go.” Oh no, that is an immense mistake. There was and is no such world, my dear friend. God loved the world that did not want Him, did not know Him, did not care to receive His Son when He came. He loved the world full of people just exactly like you, my dear unsaved friend. And what are you? You are nothing more or less than a sinner with a mind opposed to God, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). It is a great thing when you get into your soul the sense of whom it is God loves. You thought God was looking for something in you that He could love. Ah, no. God has found all the springs of His acting in what He is Himself. He is love. And His love has led Him to act in a way that can meet all the need that His eye saw here.
If you are not converted, what are you? Godless. What does that mean? You do not know God. You have no link with God. You are not in touch with God. You are godless. Well, look here, are you going to be godless for eternity? That is the question. Are you going to be without God for eternity? it strikes me, my dear unconverted friend, that though it may not have been very long, quite enough of your earthly history has been spent without the knowledge of God, and if you are wise you will recognise this solemn fact, and in your heart will spring up this desire—I should like to know God.
Should that wish rise in your heart and lead you to God, who will you find? One who loves you. “Oh,” you say, “God does not love me.” That is where you are mistaken. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He saw what the end must be, perishing. It is a very striking word. It is a very solemn word. Have you ever thought, dear friend, that you are a perishing sinner? Did you ever ponder the meaning of the word perish? “Well,” you say, “I suppose I shall die some day.” What then? “I shall cease to exist.” Oh no, not that at all, you will exist eternally—exist without the knowledge of God, in a scene where no ray of the love of God can ever come and fill your heart. Ah, beloved friend, that is perishing.
Why do you not believe that “God so loved the world?” “Well,” you say, “I have heard that verse a great many times.” What effect has it had on you? Ah, my friend, it does not need a sermon to convert you. No, if you get this in your heart, “God so loved” me as to give his Son for me, you would be converted on the spot. Can you ever fathom that “so”? Have you a son? “Aye.” Would you give your son to save anybody else? “Ah,” you say, “that is very testing.” You have six sons, perhaps, and you say, “I would not like to part with one of them.” God had one Son, and He gave that Son for a sinner like you. Ah, get hold of that. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” I get this from the lips of the One who came to reveal and make known the heart of God, what was the mind of God, what were God’s thoughts. We have all had hard thoughts of God. We thought Him stern and hard. What was the object of God in giving His Son? “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Now, what sort of state were we in when God gave His Son? Will you turn over to the fifth chapter of Romans for a moment, for I want to show you there the four ways in which our state, when God loved us, is presented. There we read, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (v. 5). Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart yet? Ah! you have not believed the gospel. If you had believed the gospel the love of God would be shed abroad there. What do you mean by shed abroad? Oh, it is a big word. It warms my heart. That love has been the joy of my soul for many a year now. And how do you get to know it? “And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Of course Paul is talking to Christians. But then, the sorrowful thing is this, that you are not a Christian. “Oh no,” you say, “I know that I am a sinner.” I tell you what I was, a downright sinner till I became a saint. The love of God met me and turned me into a saint. “A saint, I thought the saints were all in heaven” Many of them are, but not all. Thank God, there are millions of them now, and you had better join their number. “The love of God shed abroad in our hearts” is that which gives us to know we are His saints. “Then,” you say, “how does it happen?”
Listen to this “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (v. 6). “Oh,” says a poor troubled soul, “that is exactly like me.” You have been trying to do better, have you not?: “I have been very anxious about my soul for some weeks now.” Yes, and you have been trying to improve yourself? What have you found out? “Satan is too much for me, the world is too much for me, and sin is too much for me.” Exactly so, that is what I expected to hear you say. Again, listen “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” When I spoke about the godless just now, you thought I was very hard. “Yes, because I am a decent person.” But still you are ungodly, for you do not know God. But what do I find here? “Christ died for the ungodly.” I was very glad when I saw that one day, because I was ungodly. I said, That is my character, my state. No word could describe me more perfectly. That is exactly what I am. Glorious truth! I once thought Christ died for the godly. When I was an unconverted sinner I thought that, and I thought the gospel was only for the godly, and I was not such, and then one night the light pierced in that it was for the ungodly Jesus died. I saw it was for me. Oh, beloved friend, that is where the light gets in, do not you see?
What was the “due time”? When the world was seen to be without strength. What do you mean by “without strength”? “Oh,” you say, “that is my case now.” Very well what is the “due time”? When it was all perfectly manifest what man’s condition was—that man was feeble, sinful, and powerless. The apostle suggestively adds, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die.” I daresay you know a righteous man? But a purely and simply righteous man is often a hard character. He pays twenty shillings in the pound; he is quite right. And he expects twenty shillings in the pound; he is quite right; anything else is wrong. But his is not a lovable character. Do you think you would die for him? “Scarcely,” says the apostle here, and then adds, “Yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die” (v. 7).
I think a long time would be spent looking for a man who would die for a righteous man. But perhaps for a good man, like John Howard, who even went into prison to learn what prison life was, that when he came out he might help those who went there, some would even dare to die. Would you have died for him? “Ah,” you say, “that is a great test.” Now look at this contrast, “But God commendeth his own love toward us,”—it is the love that is peculiar to God: it is the love that finds its absolute source in what God is—“God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (v. 8). That is what I am,” you say. Exactly so. A sinner. What then? “Christ died for us.” Oh, what wonderful news, what glorious news, what charming news for troubled souls. To a person “without strength,” “ungodly”—a “sinner”—yea, more, an “enemy”—“God commends His love. The Son of God declares that God’s love was so great, that He gave His only begotten Son. Here it says He commends His love. It comes with a gush. It affects me. “Well,” you say, “I can understand a mother giving herself for her child.” But here God commends His love, that when He saw me the absolute opposite of all that He is Himself, and absolutely unlike His blessed Son, then Christ died for us.
Note, I would earnestly ask you, what is here added: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (vv. 9-10). Now there you have man looked at from four sides, if I might so say. I look at one side of Him, “no strength.” Another side, “ungodly.” Another side, “a sinner.” Another side, “an enemy.” Now what can a strengthless sinner do? Nothing. And what can a sinner do? Nothing but sin. And what will an ungodly man do? Nothing but ungodliness, nothing but sin. And what does an enemy do? Oppose the one he hates. That is a picture of man, that is the one God loves and saves. Is it not wonderful? My friend, has that love taken hold of your heart? Has that love reached you? If not may it reach you now.
The Gospel Messenger 1903, p. 183