“On the Love of God” is taken from the January 1810 issue of the Baptist Magazine, page 13. Though the language is somewhat antique, this wonderful statement of orthodox theology from an early Nineteenth-century Baptist magazine is a great encouragement. Please take the time to read and consider it.
It is no uncommon thing for conscious guilt and expiring hope to adopt the language of Micah, Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Let such desponding creatures renounce the gloomy ideas they have so strangely conceived of the divine Being; let not their affrighted imagination arm the hand of Omnipotence with thunder and place an eternal frown on his countenance; God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are his ways our ways. Inspiration declares that God is love; and the happiness of his creature depends in a great degree upon their ideas of the divine Beneficence. Let our views of the Love of God be regulated,
1. By the eternity of his designs.
The limits of our existence prevent us from giving any distant date to our affections. By a very easy effort we can recollect precisely the origin of certain feelings, and the circumstances that have occasioned the various exercises of our passions. Jonathan could with frequent delight recur to the moment when he first observed the heroism and unassuming deportment of the son of Jesse, and first felt that rising affection which no misfortunes could extinguish. The female penitent could often go back in imagination to that spot where her bleeding sorrows were healed and the fervor of her love kindled by that consoling declaration, Thy sins are forgiven thee. But these observations are not applicable to God, for he is eternal, and we cannot determine the commencement of his love any more than we can fix the beginning of his existence. All the notions that we form of periods of eras are incompatible with the nature of his duration; for, however incomprehensible the idea may be to us, the past and the future, with all the transactions peculiar to them, are equally present to him. A thousand years in his sight are but as yesterday.
Such a Being must have the most intimate knowledge of all creatures, whether they exist now, or are destined to exist in some future period: therefore a creature need not live and move for God to be acquainted with its properties, for it can never differ in any respect from that perfect image which was originally in the divine mind. To apply this to the subject in hand–Abraham does not bind his son on the altar to prepare to complete the sacrifice before God determines to signalize him as his friend–Daniel does not manifest the firmness of his adherence to divine worship by braving the horrors of the lions’ den previous to his being an object of divine affection–Paul does not endure derision and scourging, cold and nakedness, before his name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. The energy which obtained these achievements was derived from the Love of God, and illustrated that delightful declaration, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.
Our views of the Love of God should comport with those we form of his other perfections. A conviction of his eternal grandeur should suppress all those childish conceptions which leads us to judge of the divine affection by our own. That overwhelming astonishment with which his incommunicable attributes inspire us, ought to be felt in an equal degree when we contemplate his love, which comprehends in its exhibition the immortal felicity of mankind. When we are led back through countless ages to contemplate those plans by which God designed to govern the moral world; we ought to consider that he most accurately saw the malignity of sin and all the natural evils that would ensue. But piety itself forbids us to imagine that the display of his love was an instance of repentance for the permission of sin. It seems rather to have been the great motive of all his conduct, in suffering the race of man to ruin themselves, that amidst all the aggravation of their crimes, and the inflexible requirements of justice, he might make such a display of his benevolence as should induce the love and adoration of intelligent creatures for ever.
The love of God is therefore no new passion drawn forth by any unexpected excellence in human character, or by the groans of human wretchedness; but was ever a glorious intelligence accurately observing what is lovely, and diffusing its influence through all the divine government. The scriptures compare the love of God to sinful man with his love to his own Son; Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me. They inform us that the love of God coincides with the eternity of his purposes; He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world. They teach us that conversion is owing to an affection, the commencement of which can never be traced; I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. They assure us that divine love prepared all the honors of immortality ages before man was formed to enjoy them, The kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.
2. We should regulate our views of the love of God by the Holiness of his nature.
The scriptures manifest that no one property of the divine nature acts but in concert with the whole, and that whilst God manifests his love to the vilest of men, he maintains immaculate all the purity of his character. Indeed, our present condition is so awful, that were it not for Scripture encouragements, we must despair of seeing a creature covered with crimes and curses exalted to a state of friendship with God! His laws, while admirably suited to the government of created intelligence, present us with all the awful beauty and glory of the divine character. The ceremonies, sacrifices, the ablutions he appointed for sinners convey the solemn injunction, Be ye holy for I am holy. The punishments he has inflicted are not the deeds of a tyrant rioting in the wantonness of power, but the revelation of his righteousness for the instruction and admonition of the universe, leading those nearest his throne to cry one to another, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord!
The lax notions too frequently entertained of the purity and rectitude of God, lead some men to see no difficulty in associating him with the most polluted mortals; they can see no reason why the great and holy God should not by one single act of his mercy, without any sacrifice, cancel the crimes of ages and take into his bosom those execrable men who have been the pests of the circles in which they moved. But can such notions be honorary to God? Would the divine character shine with additional lustre through his fellowship with a graceless man who abandons himself to the lusts of appetite? We know that the Scripture says (and it is a truth we enjoy to publish) God loveth sinners; but not considered as the slaves of satan and enemies of all righteousness, for he is angry with the wicked every day. Therefore when the Love of God is manifested to a sinner, it must be in a manner consistent with the divine purity.
This view of the subject explains to us the sufferings of Jesus. Here we learn the meaning of those groans which gave a deeper horror to the gloom of Gethsemane. Here we see the reason of the abuses he endured at the bar of Caiaphas and of Pilate–of the tortures which mangled his body, and the agonies that entered his soul, extorting that bitter lamentation, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? Yes, in that bloody sweat, that mortal fainting, on that cross in that expiring groan, we perceive the Love of God in harmony with the holy rectitude of his character. We see the holiness of God in demanding the shedding of blood for the remission of sin; and we behold the Love of God in that he spared not his own Son. Thus he maintains the justice of his government, and justifies the ungodly who believe in Jesus.
The purity of the divine nature is further exemplified in those remarkable instances in which he has graciously distinguished those holy souls that have aspired to an intimate communion with him. We can have no idea of celestial friendship with which the renewed mind is not indulged; If a man love me he will keep my words, and my father will love him, and he will come unto him and make our abode with him. There is no confidence too great to be enjoyed; The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his covenant. His tenderness towards them is that of a parent; As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. We cannot imagine any consolation too large to be afforded them; Let not your hearts be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. There are no honours too great for them to receive; I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am there ye may be also.
Have any formed such conceptions of the grandeur of our Religion as to be desirous of attaining to this sublimity of feeling? Are they willing to penetrate the externals of religion and to taste the pleasures of communion with God? Are they longing for that assurance which elevated the soul of an Apostle, and in the deepest affliction enabled him to say, I am persuaded that neither life nor death, nor angels, nor principalities–nor things present, nor things to come–shall be able to separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord? God makes no such revelations as these to the wicked (for what union is there between Christ and Belial) but to such only as are panting for God as the hart panteth after the water brook; and who feeling a supreme affection for God, utter their hearts in saying, Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none on earth that I desire beside thee.
3. Our notions of the Love of God must be regulated by the Sovereignty of his will.
The Sovereignty of God is equally supported by the testimony of the Scripture and the experience of mankind; to renounce it would be to explode the existence of a Providence, and to deprive the world of a Governor and a Judge. Seated on the throne of the universe, he perceives spheres and systems moving in perfect harmony, and as the sublime proprietor of the whole, influences and directs all after the counsel of his will; pervading with equal exactness the minutest and most stupendous parts of his empire.
Some persons, forgetting that God is amiable as well as great, and kind as well as powerful, have entertained very unscriptural views of his sovereignty, and portrayed him as an inexorable Judge, artfully involving men in guilt, triumphing in their weakness; and taking pleasure in their woes! But this ill accords with the loveliness of God manifest in Jesus Christ, even in him who breathed the dying petition, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do! Such notions are not suited even to the language of a darker dispensation, I am the Lord gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. Bidding adieu to such a system, we rejoice to trace the divine sovereignty, not only in disposing of all events and punishing the impenitent, but in its operations in the human heart, in reducing to submission and love those miserable characters who have spent their best energies in manifesting themselves enemies unto God by wicked works.
The moral state of mankind forbids us to imagine that any would have submitted themselves to God, if divine love had not been sovereign in its operations. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. The carnal mind is enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. The fidelity of this awful picture is abundantly confirmed by the restless uneasiness with which a sinner submits to the restraints of conscience, by his aptitude to lose the remembrance of divine judgments and mercies, and by his obstinate inattention to all the tender remonstrances of God’s word.
There is nothing in the character of sinful men to engage the divine Being to interpose on their behalf. There is no value in their tears, no fragrance in their sacrifices, no merit in their obedience; They are all corrupt, they are all gone out of the way. What can induce the holy God to say to a sinful creature, Come let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as snow?–to address a desponding sinner with, Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb; yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee? We cannot account for this condescension on any other ground than the sovereign freeness of divine love.
4. Our views of the Love of God must be regulated by the immutability of his purposes.
One of the greatest defects in human attachments is their instability. On whatever basis our friendships may be formed, such are the varieties of life that our tenderest impressions may be effaced, and our firmest resolutions forgotten and lost. But God is immutable in his love. He is beyond the influences of circumstances. Thou hast laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands: they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou change them, but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. This is the perfection that God associates with his love! And most fully hath he demonstrated its immutability. What myriads of crimes were committed from the fall of Adam to the coming of Christ, and yet the promise made to the first criminals received the most gracious accomplishment. If the promise declared the seed of the woman shall bruise the Serpent’s head, the fulfillment shall convince us that God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son! Sometimes a tide of afflictions roll over the most pious hearts, and they are plunged into the deeps of adversity: But God does not hereby intimate any change in his love, but rather proves its stability by giving new energy to their faith and manifesting his veracity in cases of the last extremity. Let the believer stand on the verge of eternity; let the horrors of corruption crowd on his mind, and satan make the last effort to torment him, still his confidence in the Love of God may remain unshaken; When my heart and my flesh faileth, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Let the last trumpet be blown, and the dead raised; let the elements melt with fervent heat and all the frame of nature be dissolved; amidst this universal confusion the voice of Love shall suppress every fear, The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee.
[The author, signed only as ‘S’ cannot be further identified.]