The Love of God
June 3rd, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
1 John 4:7-21
THE LOVE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 4:7-21
6-03-73 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through John’s first letter, we have come to the fourth chapter. And the title of the message is The Love of God. When I read the passage, it will be very manifest what kind of a message it will be. First John 4, beginning at verse 7:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.
Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world—
[1 John 4:7-14]
and that was the sermon last Sunday morning, The Savior of the World—
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in Him, and he in God.
And we have known and believed the love that God hath toward us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear: hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We love Him, because He first loved us.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also
[1 John 4:15-21]
Now the text is in verse 10: “God loves us” [1 John 4:10]. Three little monosyllabic words, but how weighty they are with significant meaning, that the great God whom the heavens of heavens cannot contain should love us. We are moved when a dog loves us, or when a baby loves us, or when a friend loves us; how much infinitely more meaningful to say that God loves us.
In this world, this big, vast world, we are so small, so tiny. Even in this city, we’re a cipher. We are like a candlefly that dies before the morning sun. We are like an autumn leaf that falls unobserved to the ground. Our very planet is a speck in this infinitude of universe. How much smaller our little inconsequential lives, yet the revelation says in the Book that God loves us [1 John 4:10]. This is a marvel of condescension that the great Almighty should pour upon us His personal love and affection.
If there were two noblemen, peers, they respect one another. They are wealthy. It is quite usual and expected. But if a nobleman of the royal house of the royal blood, in his wealth and affluence, were to pour out his love upon a poor, crippled peasant, and care for him, and love him, and comfort him, and encourage him, be surety for him, how wonderful, how magnificent. And yet, that would be a small comparison compared to the condescension of the Lord God of the heaven of heavens, who pours out His abounding love upon us—that the Infinite should love the finite, that the holy and the pure should love the unlovely and the impure. It is a marvel of condescension.
It is more marvelous when we think that He loves us in our sin and in our human frailty. The Lord looks down upon us with compassion and pity and mercy. As He said in Ezekiel, “As I live, saith the Lord”—as I live, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye . . . for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11] Why will ye die when the crimson cross is so nearby, when the love of God is poured out without measure upon us in pity and compassion? God loves us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure, for a good man some would [even] dare to die.
But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The Lord looks down in loving compassion and pity upon us.
Like the Moravian missionaries; they went out, not to any place where others would likely go, but they went to the dark, dreary, hard places of the world—under the Arctic Circle, in a steaming jungle where it was difficult; for, they said the more degraded and the more depraved they were, the more they need a Savior. That is a reflection of the Spirit of God looking down upon us; lost, guilty, wretched in sin, dying in judgment. The Lord was moved with compassionate pity and mercy, and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice that we might be saved [John 3:16]. The compassion and the pity of God for us is mentioned in the one hundred third Psalm and the thirteenth verse: “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” [Psalm 103:13-14]; God pitying us, looking upon us with compassion.
There was a father who had two sons. One was a senior in the university. He was an athlete. He was tall, strong, and handsome. The other son was twelve years age, and he gave every promise of being as tall, and as fine, and as good looking, and as athletic as his older brother. And upon a day—just one of those things—upon a day, the younger boy on his bicycle got tangled up with a heavy truck. And as the father stood by the side of the lad in the hospital, the surgeon turned to him and said, “If we amputate the lad’s right arm and his left leg, it may be that the boy can live.” The father looked across the bed at his older son, the senior in the university, tall and strong and athletic, and then down into the face of his younger son—sought to take off his right arm and his left leg. And in a testimony at the church, the father said, “For the first time I understood the meaning of that verse, ‘As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth those that fear Him’” [Psalm 103:13]. God is not against us. God is for us. And you know, sometimes, in a moment of sorrow such as at a funeral service and it rains, I have the feeling that these are God’s tears, washing, bathing this sinful earth.
Oh, the love of God, not only in His condescension, but in His pity and compassion for us who die! Not only that; the love of God is also seen in the daily providences by which He cares for us, and sustains us, and blesses us. These providences that help and encourage are every day fresh—like manna that falls from heaven, like the vernal showers that bathe and water a thirsty earth. God’s providences are new every day. And all that God does, He does out of love for us. God’s law is because He loves us. With its threats and with its judgments, God’s law is for us, to help us. It is a manifestation of His affection for His children, His care for us upon whom He has bestowed His deepest love.
A sign on a highway is not because the state hates the motorist. It is to help the motorist. The warning sign, “See, here is a dangerous curve, or here is a dip in the road, or here is a bridge washed out.” The sign is because God loves us. The law is because His affection is set upon us. His warnings are to help us and deliver us.
When I was a boy, I heard an evangelist say that there were one hundred five times in the New Testament where God speaks about hell and warns us about hell. And the evangelist said, “If a man were driving down a highway and he passed one hundred five signs saying, ‘This road leads to hell,’ it is a warning to save the man.” And God’s interdictions are like that. On a medicine that is poisonous, the skull and crossbones is to warn us, to help us. It is so in the lives of the children that we raise in our home. When we interdict them and when we chasten them, it is not because we despise them or hate them; it is that they might grow up to be fine and noble. Because we love them, we discipline them. And without discipline, the child would be as though abandoned!
Even the law of God expresses His love for us. The love of God is bestowed upon most of us who were reared in a Christian home, in the circle of a Christian family. When I open my eyes on this world, I looked up into the face of a mother who loved God and who named the name of Jesus. I grew up in a Christian home where the family faithfully attended the services of Christ. And I knew no other thing than to love the Lord.
There are homes where the children are taught to steal, to curse, to drink strong drink. There are homes where the girls are sold into prostitution. How grateful I am that I grew up in a godly, Christian home—providences that I could never repay to the Almighty; why was I not born an aborigine in the heart of the desert of Australia, never knowing God? Why was I not born a Hottentot, living in the heart of Africa in superstition and darkness? What an infinite blessing that, in the providences of God, I should have been placed as a baby on my mother’s breasts, nourished, brought up in the love and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].
Not only that; the providences of God surround us every day. When I go to bed at night, His guardian care, like a silken curtain, surrounds my bed. It is His love that wakes us up in the morning and gives us His Spirit throughout the hours and assignments of the day. There are no eras in our lives, there are no hours in any day but that in it God has poured out His affection, His providential care upon us.
But after I have spoken of the love of God in His condescension, and in His pity and compassion, and in His daily providences, I have not said the greatest demonstration of His love for us. God loved us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins [1 John 4:10]. The greatest manifestation of God’s care for us is found in the gift of His Son and our Savior [John 3:16].
He did not send a cherub, or a seraph, or an angel. He sent Himself. He became incarnate Himself. It was God Himself who came down into this world to die for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14; John 12:27]. The love of God flows through a stained-glass window that is red. It is crimson. It is blood-colored. God sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice, an hilasmos [1 John 4:10]. Hilasterion is the mercy seat and the sacrifice—the blood of which is poured out—sprinkled on the mercy seat [Leviticus 16:14-15]; that is God’s demonstration of love for us. Look, God sent His Son to lay down His life for us. In this beautiful passage in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us” [1 John 3:16].
When I was a little fellow growing up in a little country town, a little country town, on Saturday the farmers would come into the village. And one time I so well remember, though I was very small, there was a man who tried to stop his runaway team hitched to a wagon. Sometimes a team would become scared, and when the team is frightened, the horses have no judgment at all, and in trying to stop that runaway team, the man was trampled to death. I remember that as a boy. And when the preacher told a story of that, it made a forever impression upon my young heart. He said, “A team was running away with the wagon. And the man ran and got in front of the team and pulled it down, but in doing so lost his life. The hooves of the horses cut him to pieces. And as the neighbors gathered around, one of them said, ‘John, what is in a team? What is in a wagon? Why would you jeopardize your life to stop a team and a wagon?’ And the dying man replied, he said, ‘Neighbor, go look in that wagon.’ And they looked inside of the wagon, and there lay asleep a little tiny babe.”
The sixteenth verse of the third chapter: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us” [1 John 3:16]. His coming into the world was for us [Hebrews 10:5-14]. His suffering was for us. His agony was for us. His death was for us. God loved us, and sent Jesus to die for us! [1 John 4:10].
You look how remarkable that is. Who asked the Lord to come to die for us, just who did? Who desired the outpouring of the love of God like that? Who did? The love of God, in His atoning grace, is largely and mostly unwanted and undesired. If you do not think of that, look when Adam sinned [Genesis 3:1-6] and when his sin cursed him and he was to die [Genesis 3:3], did Adam fall down on his knees and pray God for a Savior, for mercy, for forgiveness? Is that in the Bible? No! No! [Genesis 3:8]. There’s no hint of that in the Bible. Out of the goodness of the compassionate love of God, the Lord promised a Savior to deliver Adam from his sin and to save his fallen race [Genesis 3:15]. That is love beyond compare, when it is unwanted, when it is unasked for, when it is undesired, just poured out anyway.
But wait, there is more. There is much more. Not only did God love us and sent His Son to save us when we did not ask for Him [1 John 4:10], but when the Son came into the world to be our atoning sacrifice [1 John 4:10], how was He received? With blasphemies, and with curses, and with rejection, and with crucifixion! [John 19:16-30]. When He came, they cried out saying, “Away with Him! Crucify Him! not fit such a one should live in the earth!” [John 19:15]. And they plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6], and they spat in His face, and they drove great nails through His hands and His feet, and He died in agony on the cross [Matthew 27:26-50].
That is the way that the children of old man Adam received the atoning, merciful love of God. But wait, there is more; there is still more. When He sank in that raging flood, His soul cried out saying, Eli—“My God,” Eli—“My God,” lama—“why,” sabachthani—“hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46] Not only did these for whom He came to die and to save crucify Him, but He became sin for us! [2 Corinthians 5:21]. And God, who cannot look upon sin [Habakkuk 1:13], turned His face away [Matthew 27:46]. Oh, the depths of the compassion and the mercy of the love of God!
The love of God is greater [far]
Than tongue or pen could ever tell;
It reaches to the highest star,
And to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, Adam and Eve,
bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of 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 those oceans dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
[from “The Love of God,” Frederick M. Lehman]
God loved us, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins [1 John 4:10].
And the apostle writes this is the occasion of our response, our loving Him: “We love Him, because He first loved us” [1 John 4:19]. He first loved us. He loved us before we were born, before we repented, before we had faith, before we named His name, before we confessed Him as our Savior. He loved us before He set the foundations of the world, before a star did shine [Ephesians 1:4]. He first loved us [1 John 4:19]. The trickling rill speeding on its way to the ocean came out first from the sea. The rivers that pour their flood into the mighty deep were taken first out of that ocean. And the stars that shine reflect the light of the glorious sun. And when we love God, it is because He first loved us.
And look, look, “Every one that loveth is born of God” [1 John 4:7]. That is a sign of our regeneration. “In the midst of faults and failures, Lord, Thou knowest this that I love Thee.” It is a sign of being a child of God. “Every one that loveth is born of God.” It is a sign of our knowledge of God. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” [1 John 4:8]. A man might know all of the theological tomes, and he might be able to recite all of the creeds, but the love of God is not academic, nor is it intellectual, nor is it of the head. It is of the heart!
There is a vast difference between a man who preaches out of his seminary knowledge and out of his theological training, than when a man preaches out of a heart that is filled with the overflowing love of God. Knowing God; knowing God; you know God in loving God [1 John 4:7-8]. Not only that, but if God loves us, we ought also to love one another [1 John 4:11]. Love is always expressive and dynamic, always, always.
When a boy loves a girl, he will find ways to show it. If a man loves his wife, he will discover ways to demonstrate it. And if you were to say to the man, “Do not demonstrate your love,” then that is saying to him that it not exist. For love is active. It is dynamic. It is expressive. And if a man loves God, you will see it in his love of the brethren. “We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren” [1 John 3:14]. It is a care to us how they fare and how they are.
Last: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment” [1 John 4:17]. “There is no fear in love; but love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment” [1 John 4:18]. What of the morrow? It is in God’s hands. And loving God, I have no anxiety or carping care. What of the hour of death? God will be by that bed smoothing that pillow, holding my hand, calling His angels to attend and to bear my soul away. “O thou angel band, come and around me stand. Bear my soul away on your snowy wings” [from “Oh, Come, Angel Band,” Jefferson Hascall, 1860] Perfect love hath no fear; Love casteth out fear [1 John 4:18]. And in the day of judgment, “Herein is love perfected, we have boldness in the day of judgment” [1 John 4:17].
When I stand before God, will it be like a cringing slave, like a convict, like one dreading a sentence, fear of hell and damnation? No. Loving God—just quiet and peace and anticipation; “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]; reserved for those who love Him—what mind has not conceived of, what ear has never heard, and what eye has never seen [1 Corinthians 2:9]. No fear, no dread—just the full blessedness of the love and promise of God.
Yesterday afternoon I conducted the funeral service for a man in our church who was cut down in the very prime of his life. And after the service was done and the people had left, the funeral director opened the casket. And the aged mother who had outlived her son—an old, feeble woman, bent over, evidently a woman who had known toil all her life. As I stood at the head of the casket, I saw that old, bent, care-worn mother stand and look into the face of her son. What do you think she said looking down upon her boy? Did she say, “Oh, oh, I am full of dread and foreboding, for my time will soon come, and I am fearful of falling into hell and the fires of damnation; oh, the terror of this hour”? Is that what that mother said? Would you like to know what she said? The old, stooped mother bent over that prostrate form, the silent face of her son and said quietly and sweetly, “My boy, my son, you are in heaven. You are with Jesus. And my sweet son, I will soon be there too. And I will see you, son, real soon. And God keep you and bless you till I come.”
That is the love of God; no fear, no dread, no foreboding, no terror, just waiting for the blessing of every day, of any day; until the final day our times are in His hands. Be not afraid. “Perfect love casteth out fear” [1 John 4:18]. And into that love, and grace, and pity, and compassion, and atoning saving love, we are invited to come in the name of Jesus our Lord.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and in the balcony round, you, on this lower floor, you, down a stairway into the aisle: “Pastor, today I come. I have decided for Christ, and here I am.” The family of you putting your life into the circle of this dear church, or just one somebody you, make the decision now. Do it now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand responding with your life: “I feel God’s call and I am answering now.” Do it now, come now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.