God’s Love in Four Dimensions
November 15th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
Giving, Psalms, Response, Responsibilities, Return, Ephesians 1969 - 1971 (early svc), 1970, Ephesians
GOD’S LOVE IN FOUR DIMENSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-15-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled God’s Love in Four Dimensions. As I explained to you last Sunday, when I am not preaching through the Book of Daniel—and we will pick that up in these days that lie immediately ahead—and when I am not delivering a special sermon such as a Thanksgiving message, I am preaching through the Book of Ephesians. And the sermons will be published in their time and order. So the message is from the prayer, one of the sublimest prayers in all the Word of God: the message is from the prayer of the apostle Paul in the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians. He begins at verse 14; Ephesians 3:14:
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.
And last Sunday, the sermon was on The Family of God, singular, patria, singular, The Family of God: some of us up there in glory, some of us down here in the wilderness of this world. But whether up there or down here, we are all one family of God:
I pray 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, the height, the depth, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now, the sermon, The Love of God in Four Dimensions: the platos, our word “plateau” comes from that, platos, “plateau,” the breadth, a plateau is a great, broad, flat tableland, “That you might know the platos, the breadth; that you might know the mekos, the length; that you might know the bathos, the depths; that you might know the hupsos, the heighth of the love of God” [Ephesians 3:18-19]. He says it passes knowledge: we cannot even attain unto it. It is boundless, it is bottomless, it is shoreless, the immeasurable, unimaginable length, and breadth, and heighth, and depth of God’s loving affection and tender mercies.
Now that seems almost incredible and unbelievable against the background of the world as we know it. And even some who would like to believe it stagger before it. There is so much in nature and in life that contradicts it. Nature itself seems so inexorable, impersonal, sometimes cruel and relentless. The laws by which the whole universe are run, is run, those laws are so implacable. There seems to be no place for a personal God in it. The storms, the hurricanes, the tides, the fire, the water, the drowning; oh, in how many areas of life do we find nature seemingly so cruel and heartless.
And the same thing we observe in tragic sadness in human life. There are so many wrongs and so many tears, there is so much heartache, there is so much violence and wrong; how does God who loves us, how does He look upon it? Even the confrontations of war are so cruel. How does God look upon it? How does God permit it? Where is God? The inhumanities of men to men; sometimes in a very circle of a family there is such wrong and violence and heartache and tears. Yet God says in this Holy Book and text that I’ve just read that His love to us is immeasurable and unbounded; it is higher than the heights, and deeper than the depths, and broader than the east is from the west.
Now, when Paul speaks this, when he writes this, he is not speaking forensically, argumentatively; he’s not speaking philosophically, metaphysically; but he is speaking experientially, empirically. He says it, that we know this experientially; the word he used means a knowledge that comes from experience. We know it with all saints; it is corroborated and confirmed in their lives and in their experience, as well as in our lives and in our experience [Ephesians 3:18-19].
So, I am going to take that text, God’s love in four dimensions: the breadth, and the length, and the depth, and the height [Ephesians 3:18], and I’m going to take those four dimensions as you find them in the golden text of the Bible, the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of John: “For God so loved the world,” the breadth of the love of God, “that He gave His only begotten Son,” the length to which God committed Himself in that affection, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish,” the depths to which the love of God does reach, “but have everlasting life” [John 3:16], the height to which God’s love for us ascends; God’s love in four dimensions.
First, the platos, the breadth: “For God so loved the world”; the breadth of the encompassing affection of our Lord. There are three words that the apostle John could have used in this golden text, “God so loved the world” [John 3:16]. He could have used the word gē, g-e, gē, geography, the writing down of the gē, the earth, the world, the soil, the dirt, the ground, the planet, ge. He could have confined the affection of God to this little planet, the dirt, the earth itself, the gē. There’s another word that he could have used, and one that I would have thought he would have used: oikoumena, that is the inhabited world, and they thought of it mostly as that civilized world around the Mediterranean Sea. He could have said, “God so loved the oikoumena, the inhabited world, the world of civilization and culture.” But he didn’t use either one of those words; he used a third word, and you are familiar with it. He used the word kosmos. The Greeks, as they looked at the starry heavens, and the rising and the setting of the sun, and the fall and winter and spring and summer of the year, and as they looked at the regularity, they came to see in the firmament and in the world, in the whole universe, the beautiful order of God’s handiwork, so they called it the kosmos: the cosmetic, the beautiful ordered creation of the Lord. And that is the word that the apostle John uses here: “For God so loved” [John 3:16], and he included the whole creation of the Lord. The word of course primarily refers to the world of humanity. What the apostle meant when he wrote the word was that the love of God is not confined to a part, or to a segment, or to just the elect, or to the chosen, or just to a few; but the love of God is as great and as broad as the whole creation.
And in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, which we haven’t time to expound, we are told that the whole creation shall share in the redemptive grace of our Lord [Romans 8:21-23]. There will be no more burned-out stars when the new heavens and the new earth are redeemed in Christ. There will be no more desert places. There will be no more suns that are burned-out and dying, dead cinders. There will be a new earth, and there will be a new heaven [Revelation 21:1], there will be new stars and a renovated creation [Revelation 21:1-5], for God loved the whole world that He made.
The love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
[“Souls of Men, Why Will Ye Scatter”; Frederick W. Faber]
There’s not a story more famous in the life of Dwight L. Moody—I suppose the man who is most spoken of than any preacher for generations—there’s not a story that is more apropos and more excellently pointed than this one concerning Moody and Harry Moorehouse. It went like this: when Dwight L. Moody concluded his revival meeting in Birmingham, England—the nation of Morris Markham, our lad from Spurgeon’s college—when Moody completed his revival meeting in Birmingham, there came up to him a young man and introduced himself as Harry Moorehouse, and said, “Mr. Moody, I hope to go to America someday, and when I do, I want to preach for you.” Well, that was an unusual thing to say, rather bold, but maybe that’s good English, “I will preach for you.” He just invited himself. Well, Moody was nice, and said, “Well, if you come to America, we shall be so delighted to welcome you.” About six months later, Moody in Chicago received a letter from New York City, and the letter said, “Dear Mr. Moody, I have arrived in New York City, and this coming Wednesday night I will be in Chicago, and I shall preach for you Wednesday night.”
Well, Mr. Moody was aghast! He had no idea who Harry Moorehouse was. But, he was a good, kind man, and he went to his deacons, and he said, “Now I have to be out of the city, but you men be sure to be here Wednesday night. There’s a young fellow coming from England, and he says he’s going to preach for us. And you be prepared to guide the service, and if he stammers and stutters, why, you be prepared to say a few remarks yourself.” So Mr. Moody left town and left it in the hands of the deacons.
Wednesday night came, and the young fellow appeared. He was introduced. He stood up, and he took his text, John 3:16, and he poured out his soul on the love of God. And when he got through, as the habit was in the latter part of this last century, he said, “All of you who are interested, you stay in the after service that we might deal with you personally.” And not a soul left; the whole congregation stayed. And when he dealt with the people personally, and gave the invitation, there was a score of them who were saved. The deacons said, “Can you be here tomorrow night, Thursday night?” And the young fellow said, “I have nothing else to do, and I’m in the city.” So they announced services Thursday night. And the young fellow stood up Thursday night and took the same text, John 3:16. And they had a greater service Thursday night; there were more than thirty people who were saved Thursday night. And the deacons said, “Can you stay Friday night?”
“Yes,” said the young fellow, “I have nothing else to do, and I’m in the city.” So they announced services Friday night. And the crowd was great. The young fellow stood up and again took the same text, John 3:16. And they had a greater response. Mr. Moody came back to Chicago on Saturday. When he came home, his wife said, “Mr. Moody, our church is in the midst of a tremendous revival.” And Moody was dumbfounded. “A revival? Why, the deacons said nothing to me about arranging a revival, and I planned no revival. What do you mean?” And she said, “Dear, we’re in the midst of a revival, one that God has sent! It’s that young man from England.” And Mrs. Moody said to him, “I want you to go down and hear him. And I want you to get converted.” Well, Moody was overwhelmed! “You want me to get converted?” he said, “Why dear, I’ve been preaching over twenty years, and I’ve been pastor of this church for these years, and you want me to be converted?” And Mrs. Moody said, “When you go to the service tonight, you’ll understand what I mean.”
Well, Mr. Moody sat on the front row, and sat there very critical. I know exactly how he felt, very critical, and the young fellow stood up and took the same text again, John 3:16, same text again, preaching on the love of God in Christ Jesus. And when he was done and the appeal was given, again scores of people were saved! And Moody said, “I never felt so as I want to be converted again in my life as I did that night!” Moody himself said, “Young man, will you be here tomorrow, Sunday morning?” The young fellow replied, “I’m here in the city with nothing else to do.” They announced services Sunday morning. That meeting went on for six weeks with that young fellow preaching on John 3:16, the love of God. And Moody said that it changed his whole ministry. He said in the years before he had been preaching on the Sinai side of the cross, the legal side of the cross, the judgment side of the cross. He said after that revival with Harry Moorehouse he shifted to the other side: he began to preach on the Calvary side of the cross, the mercy side of the cross; God’s loving side of the cross.
Oh! that had a message for me. It is true that sin is vicious, and the judgment of God is real, and the fires of hell burn; and it’s a tragic thing for a man to turn aside from the grace and love of the Lord and to give himself to rejection and unbelief. But the emphasis of our preaching and of our appealing, of our inviting ought always to be on the positive side: “My brother, come, come, the Lord has done great things for us; and we’re glad. The Lord has blessed us, and we are happy in Him. The Lord has died for us that we might be washed from our sins [Revelation 1:5]. Heaven is sweet, and Jesus is dear, and the glory road is the way for a man to pilgrimage from this world to the world that is to come.” That’s the emphasis of our gospel: the breadth of the love of God [Ephesians 3:18].
Its length, the lengths to which God went in His love for us [Ephesians 3:18]; that is, He gave His only Son [John 3:16]. You know, it is a strange thing how human nature is put together. It is almost unbelievable how sometimes we will place value upon things, all out of proportion to their real value. For example, a picture of a baby; I don’t know how in the world you’d find any particular value if you were to assess your net assets in a picture of a baby, but that’s, that’s how he looked when he was just a little thing in our arms. Or maybe a lock of hair, particularly if the little one has fallen asleep in the Lord; just little things such as a wedding band, all out of proportion to their real value because somebody whom we love gave it to us and it reminds us of their affection.
You know, I can easily imagine a man who owned the universe and his son had been killed, say in Vietnam, I can easily imagine that man standing up and saying, “You know, I own forty universes, and I own a thousand oceans, and I own five hundred continents, and I own ten thousand planets; but I’d give them all, I’d give them all if I could only have my boy back again.” I can imagine that. For the real values in life are never monetary or physical, they’re never deeds or bonds or properties; the real values in life are those that are bound up in our souls: the outflowing of love and affection.
And that’s what this means: God’s stars, and God’s universes, and God’s planets, and God’s suns, and God’s oceans, and God’s continents, and God’s whole creation, but to give us stars and continents and oceans and planets is as nothing compared to giving us His only Son [John 3:16]; because that’s when God gave Himself—the love of God, the lengths to which God went in expressing that affection for us [Ephesians 3:18].
Whenever you have a copy of that song, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell,” that third stanza there’s a little asterisk. And when you look at the bottom of the published song, the little asterisk down here will point to a little explanation, and it says, “This stanza was found on the wall of a cell in an insane asylum after the poor wretch had died.” Oh! how lost and how abandoned: an inmate in a cell, in an asylum, and when the poor creature had died and they had taken him out to bury him, they found this stanza, the asterisk says, on the wall of the cell, you know it:
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
And were the skies a parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
[“The Love of God is Greater Far,” Frederick M. Lehman]
The length, the depths [Ephesians 3:18]; “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish” [John 3:16]; the depths—these that are perishing. It is easy to love the gracious and the adorable and the responsive, these who love us. And sometimes even at a mere slight or neglect the shallow pool of our affection is dried up. But how is it to love these who mistreat us or spurn us? And worst and hardest of all, how is it to love these that are so filthy and so vile and so dirty, to love those that are so poor, and so ignorant, and and so filthy, so diseased, so outcast, to love them, the very dregs of humanity?
I went around with our missionary in Africa who had gathered all of the lepers in that part of the earth in clan settlements—didn’t call them leper colonies, “clan settlements,” a great arc of them through the nation. I just went around, stood by the car, a little English car, as he got out his medicines and ministered to all of those lepers. I watched him from dawn until sunset as we made the great arc through those clan settlements; because over there, if one is found with leprosy, and sometimes little children contract it, they push them out to die. That’s the world. But God’s missionary, gather all of that wasted, build little settlements for them, and minister to them. And as I just stood there and watched him, I thought, “Dear me, that is the boundless, immeasurable love of the Lord to cause a man do that, a fine physician give his life just to do that”; the depths, the bathos, the depths of God’s love [Ephesians 3:18].
And it’s just the same with the vile in life. Oh, how sin can dehumanize! They become victims of vice and violence, these. And yet the love of God reaches down to them. And if they will listen, there’s new life, there is shindo, there is new life. And that’s the Christian faith. Why, haven’t you read of that infidel who came up to the preacher and challenged him to a debate concerning the Christian faith? And the preacher said, “I’d be happy, I’d be most happy. And let’s debate it like this: you announce the time and the place, and you bring a hundred who have been lost and depraved and they have been saved by the gospel of infidelity. You bring a hundred. And then I’ll bring a hundred who were lost and depraved and have been saved by the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.”
There was no debate. Where would you find a hundred wretches who had been lifted up and saved by the gospel of unbelief, and rejection, and blasphemy, and infidelity? I could bring you a thousand, any time, any announced place, and let them stand up and testify, “This is how the Lord delivered me and saved me.”
From sinking sand He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me,
From shades of night, to plains of light,
O praise His name, He lifted me!
[“In Loving Kindness Jesus Came,” Charles H. Gabriel]
The depths! [Ephesians 3:18].
I must close. The hupsos, the heights [Ephesians 3:18]; “have everlasting life” [John 3:16]. The upwardness, everlasting life, that’s heaven, isn’t it? That’s the marriage supper of the Lamb to which we are invited [Revelation 19:6-9], isn’t it? “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” [Revelation 21:6].
“And He showed me a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb . . . And on either side of the river was there the tree of life. . .the fruit and the leaves for the healing of the people” [Revelation 22:1-2]— everlasting life: to drink at the fountain and be filled, to eat at the table of the Lord and be satisfied, and I am invited to come.
We sing the song, but do we see the invitation?
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land—Praise God!
I am bound for the promised land—Hallelujah!
Oh, who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.
[“On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand,” Samuel Stennett, 1787]
Will you? “Oh, who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land.” Will you? In a moment we’ll stand and sing this hymn of appeal. And a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, while we sing the song, come, come. Some of you, lots of you, many of you, several hundred of you usually are down there in Coleman Hall listening over television to this service: come up here, take Jesus as your Savior, put your life with us in the circle of this glorious church. And there’s a throng of you in this balcony round, down one of these stairwells, “Here I come.” On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am.” Make the decision now. And in a moment when you stand up to sing, stand up coming. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.