LOVE IN FOUR DIMENSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-27-57 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing in the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled Love, God’s Love in Four Dimensions; and it is a text in the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians and the eighteenth verse. In our preaching through the Bible we have been for these last several Sundays in the third chapter of Ephesians. It was my plan and purpose to begin this morning in the fourth chapter of the book, but there is a devotional thought in this great prayer of the apostle recorded in the third chapter that I could not find it in my heart finally to omit. So this morning’s message is one more in the third chapter of the book, before this evening when we turn to the fourth.
Now the latter part of the third chapter of Ephesians is a tremendously great and beautiful prayer by the apostle Paul, and I read that prayer; Ephesians 3:14 to the end of the chapter:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
That is the beautiful, beautiful, meaningful prayer; and this is the text: "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" [Ephesians 3:17-19]. And the four dimensions: the breadth, the length, the depth, and the height of God’s love in Christ Jesus.
Paul says it is immeasurable, it is boundless, it is shoreless, it is bottomless, it is unfathomable, it passeth all knowledge and all understanding. Sometimes even to us who in our minds are most open and sympathetic toward believing a sentence like that and a revelation like this, sometimes even to us it is very difficult. There are so many things, there are so many things in this world that militate against the fact of the love of God.
Nature, for example, is so implacable, and unrelenting, and ruthless, and merciless, and cruel. There could hardly be anyone who reads a newspaper but that can see how a devastating storm with pitiless unconcern will slay a family, will rob a people of all of their possessions, will destroy a whole town. You read constantly of a great earthquake that sometimes will destroy a vast city and shake down all the buildings on an entire island. The elements of nature seem so inexorable and impersonal. Where is God in this world? And how does He look upon the devastating torment that is brought by the impersonal, apparently impersonal laws of nature?
Again, sometimes it is difficult to understand the love of God in the story of the cruel inhumanity to man that is written on every page of history and delineated in every newspaper of our contemporary hour. How does God look upon cruelty and the suffering and tears of a humanity that seems so helpless, like sheep without a shepherd? How does God look upon it? How does God bear to see it? I say sometimes even to us, who in our minds are most open to receive the revelation of the love of God in Christ, in the world around us so oft times pitiless and cruel, so filled with tears and suffering, sometimes, I say, it is difficult to be persuaded that God knows, that God sees, that God loves, and God cares. But the thing that Paul is speaking of here is not philosophical or academic or forensic; he is speaking of a thing experientially. He says, "That we may be able to comprehend with all saints" [Ephesians 3:18]; that is, what they know, what they have felt, what they have seen, that we might know with them, experientially, the breadth, and the length, and the depth, and the height, to know the love of God. He says its passeth knowledge [Ephesians 3:19]: it is not something that a man philosophically could ever arrive at. It is not a thing that a man might study academically and know all about. You couldn’t put it in a test-tube and measure it or weight it, or say it has certain chemical properties, and has thus and so chemical reactions. It’s not measurable academically; it doesn’t have density or mass or weight scientifically. But, Paul says, it is experientially a thing that goes beyond knowledge, and as such it is immeasurable. And he speaks of the four dimensions of this experiential love of God in Christ Jesus: the breadth, and the length, and the depth, and the height [Ephesians 3:18].
Now, I want to apply that to the golden text [John 3:16]. The breadth of the love of God: "For God so loved the world." And the length of the love of God: "that He gave His only begotten Son." And the depth of the love of God: "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish." And the height of the love of God: "that we might have everlasting, celestial, heavenly, eternal life." Those are the four dimensions: its breadth, the whole world; its length, that God would go to the length to give His only Son; its depth, reaching down to those who are perishing; and its height, reaching up to the celestial towers of God in heaven, that we might have everlasting life.
So first, the breadth: "That ye might comprehend with all saints the breadth, the breadth of the love of God [Ephesians 3;18],For God so loved the world" [John 3:16]. The world, the word world in the Bible is used in three different senses. Sometimes the word world refers to the universe and all the created things therein; the world, this great phenomena that we see around us, the world. Sometimes the word is used to refer to the powers of evil that oppose God. "The love of the world is enmity to God" [James 4:4]. The love of the world: "Having loved this present world, Demas forsook Christ" [2 Timothy 4:10]. Sometimes it’s used for the world of evil and of pleasure and of vanity and pride, the perishing temporal world.
Then sometimes the word "world" is used to refer to the great family of humanity: the men, the women, the children, suffering, dying, like sheep without a shepherd; that world of humanity. And that is the sense in which the word "world" is used here: "For God so loved this world," the whole wide world, the breadth of the love of God, the humanity that lives on this globe.
That is a marvelous thing and a wonderful thing, and something that is altogether God-like. How is it that God can encompass in one great outpouring of His soul all of the creatures that belong to this human family? Some of them are so vile, some of them are so antagonistic, some of them are so blasphemous, some of them are so foolish, some of them are so darkened, and yet around this whole earth, wherever men are, on any continent, in any village, in any condition, in any place, at any hour, even now, God so loved this whole great, broad world of dying, perishing humanity.
If that thing could ever enter our hearts, it would surely transform our lives. We are so prone to be contemptuous toward those who are contemptible to us. The pools of our affection can dry up at even one critical word. And how difficult it is to include in our embrace all of that world of humanity that is so different, and so alien, and so foreign from those and things that we love. How do you include them in your heart and in your soul? And yet God does. And I say, if it were ever possible for us to bring into our souls and into our lives that same expansive love of God, how it would change us in our spirits, in our attitudes, in our demeanor, in our lives.
Over there at the close of one of his revival meetings in Birmingham, England, there came up a young man to Dwight L. Moody, and shook hands with him to bid him goodbye as he returned to America. And the young fellow said, "Mr. Moody, I hope to go to America someday. And when I do, I will come and visit you and preach for you." That was an unusual thing. And Mr. Moody, not thinking that it would ever materialize, said to the man, "Well, I hope you can come, and we would be glad to have you." I have said that many times, in many realms, and haven’t looked for the people to, you know, accept the invitation or to respond to the generosity. And when they do, I’m always surprised. You’ve done that too. Well, Mr. Moody did it. And to his amazement, to his surprise, upon a day he received a letter in Chicago from that young fellow, with a postmark on the letter from New York City. And the young fellow said, "I have come to America, and I will be in Chicago next Wednesday evening, and I will preach for you." Well, that was indeed a shock to Mr. Moody.
So this is what he did: he decided not to interdict the aspirations of the young fellow, but to see how it would come out; and he was going to be gone that week. So he went around to some of his fine deacons, and he said to them, "Now there is a young man from Birmingham, England, who is going to preach for me this Wednesday night. And I do not know anything of his ability. I do not think he can do it. So I want you deacons to be sure to be present, and then to have, you know, to be prepared to say some words so the meeting will be at least somewhat successful and profitable, because I have no idea about this young fellow." So Moody left town, and the young fellow came. And he preached. And he took this text from John 3:16, and he poured out his heart of the love of God for lost sinners. And when he gave the invitation, to the amazement of the people there were about twenty who came forward, giving their hearts and their lives to the Lord Jesus.
Well, some of those men who’d come there to be prepared to say a few words in the event the young fellow stammered and failed, they came up to him and said, "Young fellow, would you come back tomorrow night? And would you preach to our people?" And the young fellow said, "It would be a pleasure to do so. I am in the city with nothing else to do." So on Thursday night, that young fellow came before the church, and the church was filled; and he took the same text again, on John 3:16, and he preached another sermon on the love of God for lost sinners. And when he gave the appeal, again the same thing happened: a score or more came down giving their hearts in trust to Christ. So those laymen, those deacons, gathered round the young fellow and said, "Would you preach for us tomorrow night, Friday night?" And the young fellow said, "I am in the city with nothing else to do; it would be a pleasure to do so." So he came on Friday night; and he preached from the same text, on John 3:16, and preached another sermon on the love of God for lost sinners. And when he gave the invitation, again more than a score came down the aisle trusting Jesus as their Savior.
Well, those men gathered around him on Friday night, and they said, "Would you come back tomorrow night, Saturday night?" And they said, "We’ve never had any services here on Saturday night, and it’s very unusual. But will you come back on Saturday night and preach to us again?" And the young fellow said, "I am in the city with nothing else to do. It would be a pleasure to do so." So he came back on Saturday night. Now Dwight L. Moody returned to the city on that Saturday afternoon. And when he walked into the house, his wife said to him, she said, "Mr. Moody, did you know we’ve got a great revival going on down at our church?" And Mr. Moody said, "Why, why, why, why, well, what do you say? Why," he said, "I never planned any revival, and I could not imagine my deacons planning a revival without consulting me. What do you mean?"
"Well," she said, "you come down there tonight, and you will find out." She said, "That young fellow we met over there in Birmingham, England, he’s down there preaching; and a revival has broke out in the church!" And then she said something to him, she said, "Mr. Moody, when you go tonight, I hope you too get converted." Well, he was amazed, he was amazed. He said, "Why, converted, what do you mean I get converted? Why," he said, "I’ve been preaching twenty years, and you say I go down there and get converted?" And his wife replied, "Well, husband, I can’t tell you what I mean; I can’t say it in words. But when you come down to church tonight, you will understand what I mean."
So Moody, in a great critical frame of mind – you know, if you want to put a fellow against you, why, just say, "Now I’d like for you to be like him." You know, brother, you hate him, just look at him; I don’t care what he is, you don’t like him. You don’t like him. "I don’t want to be like him, yet you want me to be like him." Well, you don’t like him. "You know, he’s better than I." Well, Moody was that way, he was just like any other man. He came down there and he sat on the front seat in a very critical frame of mind. And the young fellow stood up and he took that same text again, John 3:16, and he preached another sermon on the love of God for lost sinners. And when he got through and gave the invitation, the same thing happened again: a score or more came forward. And Moody said, "Never in my life, since the day of my conversion, never was I so moved to go forward as I was that Saturday night, when that young fellow preached." So Moody himself went up to him, and said, "Young man, Sunday is tomorrow. Would you preach for us Sunday morning?" And the young fellow replied, "Well, Mr. Moody, I’m in the city with nothing else to do. It would be a pleasure to do so."
So he preached Sunday morning, and took the same text, John 3:16, and again poured out his soul concerning the love of God for lost sinners. And the same thing happened: a score or more of people came down that aisle giving their hearts in faith to Christ. So Moody asked him to preach again that night. And he took the same text, John 3:16, and preached on the love of God for lost sinners. And that young fellow preached every night there in that church for six solid weeks, and they had a revival that not only touched the city of Chicago, but spilled over all over this United States of America. And some little feeling of that still goes on today. And Moody said, "And it changed my ministry." He said, "Until that young fellow came, I was always preaching on the Sinai side, the law side, the judgment side, the wrath side of the cross. But," he said, "something happened to me in that revival." And he said, "After those days of meeting, and that young fellow preaching on John 3:16," he said, "it changed me on the inside: I was converted myself, and I began to preach about the love side of Calvary, the merciful side of Calvary, the grace side of Calvary, God’s gift side of Calvary."
Oh, I wish a turn like that could happen in my heart! I wish I could get to the place where if anybody were to smite me on one cheek it wouldn’t raise any flush in me of anger at all. I wish I could get to the place where what anybody said about me would not matter at all. I wish I could get to the place, no matter who or no matter what, my heart could be filled with nothing but love for him and for all that concerns him, just good, just filled with kindness, just filled with forgiveness, just filled with mercy and tenderness, just like it says in the text: "The breadth of the love of God,For God so loved the world," the whole, whole world.
And the length of it [John 3:18]: "That He gave His only begotten Son" [John 3:16]. The length to which God went to express His compassion for our world, "that He gave His only begotten Son."
Could I parenthesize here just for a moment, to give you another illustration why I greatly dislike the Revised Standard Version of this Bible? They leave out the word "begotten," and they translate it, "That He gave His only Son." But the Greek of that is, "That He gave monogenēs Son, monogenēs," and they leave it out. So you ask the translators, "Why do you leave out monogenēs?" And they reply, "Oh, it’s not needed; you don’t need it in there. It makes sense without it." But that’s not the point: the very point of the text is that thing monogenēs, "only begotten." And to leave it out just because a translator or a group of translators think it’s not needed, oh! God put it there, and it has a tremendous meaning. And when we translate the Bible, we ought to be true, and we ought to translate it exactly like God wrote it in the Book: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His monogenēs, His only begotten Son" [John 3:16]. And that’s the point: it is a saying of the length to which God Himself went in order to reach down to touch and to save this man that was lost. He gave not something that He had made, not a creative work of His hands, but He Himself became a man, to suffer as a man, to taste death for every man [Philippians 2:7-8], to die in our stead [1 John 2:2], to receive our penalty, and our shame, and the judgment of God in His own heart and soul and body! [1 Peter 3:18]. Jesus Christ, the second of the Godhead, became a man that He might live a man’s life, be tried by a man’s trials, that He might suffer a man’s sufferings [Hebrews 4:15], that He might die in a man’s stead, that He might be raised to bring us a trophy of grace out of the tomb and out of sin and out of death [1 Corinthians 15:20-23]. That’s the point of this thing: that’s the length to which God Himself did go, that He became a man, a begotten man, a born man, a man of flesh and of blood, that He might deliver us who were in bondage to sin and to death [Romans 6:6].
Now may I speak for a moment of that love of God and the length to which God went in the giving of His only begotten Son, of Himself incarnate in the flesh? [John 3:16]. Did you ever think in yourself, watching yourself, watching others, did you ever notice how you bestow preciousness, value, upon things all out of proportion to their actual worth and to their actual value, because somebody whom you love touched them, or possessed them, or gave them to you? Did you ever notice that? And it’s universal. A lock of hair from the baby that the Lord called away to heaven, a lock of hair. What is a lock of hair worth? Well, it’s the heart that makes the difference. Or, here is a little gift: well, what would it be worth? But it’s the one that touched it and gave it that makes the difference. And here is a possession, and how precious and how beautifully and wonderfully kept; somebody that you love gave it to you or did own it. The great gifts in life are never monetary, they’re never material: the great gifts are always of the soul and of the heart.
You know, I could easily imagine, I could easily imagine that if a man, a man that had a heart in him, a man who was moved by great love and affection, I could easily imagine that a man who owned the entire universe, fifty million stars, and continents, and oceans, and worlds, and he’d lost a son, say, in the war, his boy was killed in the war, I could easily imagine and I could understand his saying it, I could easily imagine that man standing up and saying, "I own fifty million stars and fifty million worlds and fifty million continents and fifty million oceans. But I would give all of the worlds I possess, and all of the stars that I own, and all of the continents that are mine, I’d give them all if I could have that boy of mine back again."
Well, what is the value of the boy? It’d be pretty hard to say if you’d sell him on the market; but that’s not the point. It’s of the heart, it’s of the soul, it’s of the self that creates the value where no value is. Our greatest gifts, I’m trying to say, are not things, they’re not materialities, they’re not mundane terrestrial objects. God could have written His love across the sky in burning flaming stars, and He could have done it in a thousand other material, temporal ways; but God in His love, the length of it, God gave for us His Son [John 3:16]. And that makes the difference: God’s love, not the stars, not the continents, not the materialities around us, but Himself, Christ Jesus.
And could I say in passing, that that forever hallows – that is, it does to me – that forever hallows and sanctifies this planet on which we live? I do not know the number of times, talking with others and reading in books, that I have come across this infidel scorn of this world, our little world. They say this vast, illimitable multiverse, those Milky Ways, those stars, those great universes, and in that great, vast infinitude above us, this little universe of ours is like a speck; and on the inside of the great universe that’s a speck, this little, tiny, weensy world of ours is almost nothing. And then comes that quip, "Then you say that God came down into that little world, and God came down into that little speck, and God cares about what happens in this little far away hidden corner of His great created universe?" And did you know, at first, especially when I was a young fellow, that thing just overwhelmed me; it just swept me aside. It scared me to death. It drowned me in the infinitude of the greatness about me. And because we were so little and the world is so great, they almost had me convinced it was impossible for God to care anything about us, much less come down to save us. That’s the way it used to be. But oh, how I’ve learned different.
Now you look, you look: granting you have a heart – now that’s all that I have to be granted – granted you have a heart, I want to ask you something. Suppose you live in a beautiful, beautiful mansion on Fifth Avenue. And suppose on the inside of that beautiful, beautiful palatial mansion you had every kind of beautiful thing that money could buy. Here are gorgeous draperies and tapestries, and beautiful rugs, and art works that were worth millions, and all kinds of silver plates, and gold service sets, and furniture and everything on the inside of that beautiful palace, that enormous palace. And then on the inside of the palace, suppose upon a day – like there came to Grace Kelly – suppose there came a little bitty bundle, weighing maybe eight pounds, just a little bitty bundle. All right, and suppose that you are away at the office, or away in the next town, and you get a telephone call. And they say, "Oh sir, that beautiful home of yours is on fire! It’s on fire. It’s a great rising sheet of flames. It’s on fire! It’s burning up! It’s burning down."
All right, I want to ask you, what would you say first? Would you say, "Oh! Are my draperies safe?" Would you say, "Oh! Are my beautiful paintings safe?" Would you say, "Oh! Are my gorgeous Oriental rugs safe?" Would you say, "Are the gold and silver services safe?" Would you? It all depends on whether you had a heart or not. I say, if you had a heart and a soul and the love of God in you, the first thing you’d say is, "My house is on fire! My house is on fire! Tell me, tell me, is that little bundle safe? Is that little boy safe? Is that little girl? Is my family safe? Are they?" That is, if you had a heart.
I say the same thing about God: when a man tries to overwhelm me saying, "The great infinitude of God’s universe, and He has got so many stars, and He has got so many worlds, and so many planets, and oh, so big and so big; then you say that you are precious in His sight?" I have learned different in the years. I still can answer, "It all depends upon whether God has a heart. And if He does, He loves you more than the stars that shine in the sky, and fifty million worlds around it.
That He gave Himself – oh, I must stop! The length to which God went in His love, and the depth [Ephesians 3:18]: "That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish" [John 3:16]. God’s reaching hand, "not to perish." And the height [Ephesians 3:18]: "But to have everlasting life" [John 3:16], everlasting life. God’s vision for the man is not like a worm: God’s vision for the man is not to end in the grave or into death. God’s vision for His man is to be in heaven; it’s celestial, it’s angelic, it’s glorious. God has a place for you at the marriage table of the Lamb. God has a place for you among the uncounted throngs of glory. God has a place for you in the bride of Christ. In the church, there is a place for you: "might have everlasting life." God’s program and choice and destiny and plan for you is not to die or to perish, but to live forever and ever; living now in the congregation of His people, and living in the world that is to come in the many-towered city, whose gates are made out of solid pearl, whose streets are made out of solid gold [Revelation 21:21], whose foundations are made of jasper and the gems precious and beautiful [Revelation 21:19]; and whose fellowship is with the saints of all time and with Jesus our Lord [Revelation 21:3], that we might not perish, but have everlasting life [John 3:16] – the height of the love of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 3:18].
At that 8:15 service this morning, to my surprise there were five people who came down that aisle and gave me their hands, and put their lives with us in this church. Is there somebody you at this 11:00 o’clock hour to do so this morning? Either giving your heart in trust and in faith to Christ, or coming into the fellowship of His church, by baptism or by letter, a family of you, or one somebody you, while we prayerfully, earnestly sing this song, would you come? Would you make it now? In the balcony around, down this stairwell and here to the front; or in the great press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front and by my side, would you come? Would you make it now? This is a good time to choose God. This is a gracious time to put your life in the church. Would you do it now? Would you? While we stand and while we sing.