Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mission of Christ – The Revelation of God's Love

by Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910) (This is an excerpt from a larger sermon.)

‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ — 1 John 4:10.

THIS is the second of a pair of twin verses which deal with substantially the same subject under two slightly different aspects. The thought common to both is that Christ’s mission is the great revelation of God’s love. But in the preceding verse the point on which stress is laid is the manifestation of that love, and in our text the point mainly brought out is its essential nature. In the former we read, ‘In this was manifested the love of God,’ and in the present verse we read, ‘Herein is love.’ In the former verse John fixes on three things as setting forth the greatness of that manifestation —viz., that the Christ is the only begotten Son, that the manifestation is for the world, and that its end is the bestowment of everlasting love. In my text the points which are fixed on are that — that Love in its nature is self kindled — ‘not that we loved God, but that He loved us’ — and that it lays hold of, and casts out of the way that which, unremoved, would be a barrier between God and us — viz., our sin: ‘He hath sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ Now it is interesting to notice that these twin verses, like a double star which reflects the light of a central sun, draw their brightness from the great word of the Master, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Do you not hear the echo of His voice in the three expressions in the verse before the text — ‘only begotten,’ ‘world,’ ‘live’? Here is one more of the innumerable links which bind together in indissoluble union the Gospel and the Epistle. So, then, the great thought suggested by the words before us is just this, that in the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ we have the great revelation of the love of God.

I. Now there are three questions that suggest themselves to me, and the first is this, What, then, does Christ’s mission say about God’s love? I do not need to dwell on the previous question whether, apart from that mission, there is any solid revelation of the fact that there is love in Heaven, or whether we are left, apart from it, to gropings and probabilities. I need not refer you to the ambiguous oracles of nature or to the equally ambiguous oracles of life. I need not, I suppose, do more than just remind you that even the men whose faith grasps the thought of the love of God most intensely, know what it is to be brought to a stand before some of the dreadful problems which the facts of humanity and the facts of nature press upon us, nor need I remind you how, as we see around us to-day, in the drift of our English literature and that of other nations, when men turn their backs upon the Cross, they look upon a landscape all swathed in mists, and on which darkness is steadily settling. The reason why the men of this generation, some of them very superficially, and for the sake of being ‘in the swim,’ and some of them despairingly and with bleeding hearts, are turning themselves to a reasoned pessimism, is because they will not see what shines out from the Cross, that God is love...So our twin texts divide what I may call the process of redemption between them; and whilst the one says, ‘He sent His Son that we should have life through Him,’ the other tells us of how the sins which bar the entrance of that life into our hearts, as our own consciences tell us they do, can be removed. There must first be the propitiation for our sins, and then that mighty love reaches its purpose and attains its end, and can give us the life of God to be the life of our souls.

II. Now I have to ask, secondly, how comes it that Christ’s mission says anything about God’s love? That question is a very plain one, and I should like to press the answer to it very emphatically. Take any other of the great names of the world’s history of poet, thinker, philosopher, moralist, practical benefactor; is it possible to apply such a thought as this to them — except with a hundred explanations and limitations — that they, however radiant, however wise, however beneficent, however fruitful their influence, make men sure that God loves them? The thing is ridiculous, unless you are using language in a very fantastic and artificial fashion. Christ’s mission reveals God’s love, because Christ is the Son of God. If it is true, as Jesus said, that ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,’ then I can say, ‘In Thy tenderness, in Thy patience, in Thy attracting of the publican and the harlot, in Thy sympathy with all the erring and the sorrowful, and, most of all, in Thy agony and passion, in Thy cross and death, I see the glory of God which is the love of God.’ Brother, if you break that link, which binds the man Christ Jesus with the ever-living and the ever-loving God, I know not how you can draw from the record of His life and death a confidence, which nothing can shake, in the love of the Father. Then there is another point. Christ’s mission speaks to us about God’s love, if — and I was going to say only if — we regard it as His mission to be the propitiation for our sins.

III. My last question is this: what does Christ’s mission say about God’s love to me? We know what it ought to say. It ought to carry, as on the crest of a great wave, the conviction of that divine love into our hearts, to be fruitful there. It ought to sweep out, as on the crest of a great wave, our sins and evils. It ought to do this; does it? On some of us I fear it produces no effect at all. Some of you, dear friends, look at that light with lack-lustre eyes, or, rather, with blind eyes, that are dark as midnight in the blaze of noonday. The voice comes from the Cross, sweet as that of harpers harping with their harps, and mighty as the voice of many waters, and you hear nothing. Some of us it slightly moves now and then, and there an end. Brethren, you have to turn the world-wide generality into a personal possession. You have to say, ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ It is of no use to believe in a universal Saviour; do you trust in your particular Saviour? It is of no use to have the most orthodox and clear conceptions of the relation between the Cross of Christ and the revelation to men of the love of God; have you made that revelation the means of bringing into your own personal life the conviction that Jesus Christ is your Saviour, the propitiation for your sins, the Giver to you of life eternal? It is faith that does that. Note that, in the great foundation passage to which I have made frequent reference, there are two conditions put in between the beginning and the end. Some of us are disposed to say, ‘God so loved the world that every man might have eternal life.’ That is not what Christ said, ‘God so loved the world that’ — and here follows the first condition — ‘He gave His Son that’ — and here follows the second — ‘he that believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ God has done what it is needful for Him to do. His part of the conditions has been fulfilled. Fulfil yours — ‘He that believeth on Him.’ And if you can say, not He is the propitiation for our sin, but for my sin, then you will live and move and have your being in a heaven of love, and will love Him back again with an echo and reflection of His own, and nothing shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It seems to me that those who, in the name of the highest paternal love of God, reject the thought of Christ’s sacrificial death, are kicking away the ladder by which they have climbed, and are better than their creeds, and happily illogical. It is the Cross that reveals the love, and it is the Cross as the means of propitiation that pours the light of that blessed conviction into men’s hearts.

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