1 John 4:8-16.
I have already considered John's words, "God is light." I have called that a parent truth, and been looking at its fruit or results. "GOD IS LOVE" is, in like manner, a parent truth; and I would now also trace its path through the Scripture, according to my small measure. But who is sufficient for such a theme? I would, however, with desire pursue it a little, though this has been somewhat anticipated in the previous meditations. May the Spirit direct and control!
At creation God was shown to be "love" - the garden told that by the testimony of all that was there, so that I speak not particularly of it. But so was it afterwards, when that garden of delights was forfeited.
We read in 2 Cor. 3 that the law was a dispensation that was to be "done away;" and in Heb. 8 that it was not "faultless." These passages strikingly tell us that the law was not altogether according to God's mind, that He could not rest in it. Not that it was faulty in itself; we know that it was "holy, just, and good" - as fully answerable to its purpose as the gospel; but still found fault with, because not altogether according to God. And this can be at once understood; for "God is love." There the secret appears. The law could not possibly meet Him; for it gave no occasion to His showing Himself, or to His acting agreeably with His nature. It must, therefore, be "done away." It could not abide before God. It was not God's own thing. The promise was such. As the garden and all the condition of things at creation told what God was, so to tell the same, as soon as sin entered, it was the promise that was revealed, and not the law. (Gen. 3) The law came in afterwards to serve, it is true, great purposes; but the promise was God's own thing. And we may just observe, accordingly, that in Deut. 31 and in Gal. 3 (not to mention other Scriptures) God keeps Himself in company with the "song," and with "the promise," while "Moses" and "the law" are linked together in both those Scriptures.
But this, rather, by the way. The law was clearly not to God's mind; and the reason of this, we see, derives itself out of His nature - blessed be His name! But having thus set God with the promise, or having thus learnt that "God is love," we can track His wondrous and excellent path onward. Thus: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only.begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "God is love." He looked out upon it according to Himself, and its ruins drew from Him the remedy. He loved a ruined and defiled world, however, in the only way that He could love it, in the only way that He could exercise Himself towards such an object, that is, with the love of pity, and He gave His Son for its relief and rescue.
Here, then, was the beginning of His way; for "God is love." The stream must be according to the spring. The parent truth determines the produce. We learn the way from the character. And as we follow the stream, it is still the same water. Let dispensations roll on and disclose themselves to us, God is seen in each according to Himself. Great unfoldings both of persons and ministries there may be, but all are One. It may be the Father, it may be the Son, it may be the Holy Ghost that is manifested, but still it is but the unfoldings of God, and "God is love."
Thus the Son, looking back on past dispensations, says, "My Father worketh hitherto;" and then, reflecting on the then present one, He adds, "and I work." Similar works, whether in the ministry of "the Father" or "the Son." And those works are works of grace, works of pity to sinners, Bethesda healings. (John 5) And so the Son, looking forward to still coming dispensations, says, speaking of the Holy Ghost, "He will abide with us for ever;" "He will take of mine and show it unto you;" "He will guide you into all truth." He will indeed be the servant of your need and joy. Herein is love still. All this is God unfolded (to speak after the manner of man), God seen in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; but all is "love."
We might notice the trial and the proof of this, and we shall see, as to divine love, its unconquerable patience. For the Father, when He worked, had His grace slighted, or misunderstood, by generation after generation, from Adam to Christ, but still He worked "hitherto." The Son, when He worked in like grace, was refused, and had all indignities and evil to endure, but He loved and laboured to the end, till He was cast out and crucified. The "Holy Ghost," now working, is grieved of the saints, and yet, unfailing, unwearied, abides still the "Comforter," the "Spirit of truth," in them. And thus is it love, and love of the same quality. "Love never faileth." The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost minister in equal love, tried variously, but alike unfailing in each, and patient in all.
It is not, however, simply thus in pity and in patience - in pity towards the world or sinners, and in patient forbearing towards believers - that divine love shows and exercises itself: God has sought another way in which to be among us - in the love of complacency. He has so set His saints before Him, so put them in Christ, so taken counsels about them, and multiplied thoughts about them, as gives Him to look on them without blame or spot, that He may delight in the eight of them and rest in His love. John teaches us to look at this form of love - "My Father will love him." "I will love him," says Jesus of His saint. "We will come unto him, and make our abode with him." This is all the love of complacency, the love of delight: such love is according to the mind of God.
These exercises of God, it is indeed happy to look at, we being the objects of them all. And they still keep in memory the great first truth, "God is love;" they still tell us whence they flow, and are only the narrower or richer current of the one great divine source. It is love in pity, in patience, in complacency; but it is LOVE, and only love, happy and fruitful in its constant though varied exercise.
And what other exercise can it have "If it could, it would. But in this complacency, it abides for ever. "God will rest in His love." Glory, by and by, will be the gift of this love of complacency, as salvation is the gift of His pity now, and the upholding of His saint the fruit of His patience. But beyond this complacency love knows and can know no form more excellent. It will be the element of the divine presence through endless ages of glory. In it the saints will live and move and have their being for ever, after the love that once pitied them in their sins, and was patient with them in their shortcomings, and "perfected" itself towards them in giving them boldness in the very day of judgment, has done its wondrous work.
Love, in every trial of it, will have exercised and displayed itself, and then will get its eternal refreshment in the delight and complacency with which it will rest in its object forever. Love has thus determined the character of God's own way. But we may also see that it equally determines the person and actings of His children; that "God is love" is still the great parent truth.
For the saints, or children of God, "love" is the divine nature; as it is written, "Every one that loveth is born of God." And again, "He that loveth not knoweth not God." There is no fruit of His energy or spirit, no communion in knowledge with Him, but through love. "If any man love God, the same is known of Him."
And this being so, it appears from the further teaching of the Spirit of God that two things are sought for and expected from us as His children. I mean "confidence" and "imitation." "God is love," and therefore, in our actings towards Himself, He cannot possibly accept anything less than confidence. It is the answer love is entitled to, the only answer which, from its nature, it can (shall I say) put up with. Nothing will gratify or satisfy love but love; and in the gospel God is to get it from us. The apostle therefore states this (though we might derive it out of the great parent truth): "We love Him because He first loved us." We do not fear Him, we do not mistrust Him, but we love Him because He has already loved us. "There is no fear in love; perfect love casteth out fear." Love leaves no room for fear. It cannot dwell in the same house with it. The elements are destructive one of another. If we know that love, perfect love, is dealing with us, we cease to fear. Confidence only is the due answer, as it is the necessary demand of love.
But so in our actions towards others, God cannot approve anything less than imitation. And this all the apostles tell us. It might, again I would say, be derived out of the great parent truth; but the Spirit is pleased to state it largely to us. "If God have so loved us, we ought also to love one another." "If we shut up our bowels of compassion, how dwelleth the love of God in us?" "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."
In its actings thus, whether upward towards God or out towards others, love will be found in us, this principle of confidence and of imitation. And the Spirit teaches us that to judge ourselves to be "lovers of God" without this confidence and this imitation is practising a deceit on ourselves; for I read these two sentences - "We love Him because He first loved us;" "He that loveth God must love his brother also." The first of these holy sentences tells us this, that we can only love God as knowing that He first loved us; that is, we love Him because we have confidence in His love to us. Were it otherwise, it would be an assumption that our love is greater than God's. If we assert that we have affection towards Him more surely than we are confident He has towards us, it is saying that we are better than God. Therefore, the only true, spiritual, evangelical love of God springs from confidence in His love towards us. So the second of them tells us, that to assume that we can love God without loving one another is a reflection on God. For how can we think that he will accept the affection of one who has it not for his brother? This would be another way of making ourselves better than God. We would reject such affection ourselves.
How simple, then, those two holy sentences, or judgments, of the Spirit of God are! How necessarily true, when we consider the great parent truth, so to call it again, that "GOD IS LOVE!" We must, therefore, confide in His love ere we can love Him or have affection towards Him ourselves. We must also love others as well as Him, our brethren as well as God.
Thus we get the personal acts of the children, as well as God's own ways, out of this parent truth. We pass into God's place in this way of love. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." By love we know that we are in God's place, in fellowship with Him. This assures the heart. "Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." The very character of the place, the very element that fills it, the commandment or voice that is heard there, is this - "that we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another." That is that we assure ourselves of God's love to us, and exercise love among ourselves from one to the other. This is the commandment, the ordinance, the character, the element of God's place. And he that keepeth this commandment, the soul that breathes this element, dwelleth in God, and God in him.
This is the region we inhabit. These are the present realms of the saints - "translated into the kingdom of the dear Son." It will be a region of glory by and by - "His eternal kingdom and glory." But the elements will dwell together, and fill the whole place. Love is (as I believe another has said) but hidden glory - glory will be manifested love. Love will be for ever quickening the hidden springs and streams of affection that are known and exercised, and glory will gild the whole scene where these affections flow, and have their happy course for ever and for ever.
Precious and glorious indeed is thus the constant testimony, that "GOD IS LOVE;" and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.