The Greatness of the Love of Christ
At the beginning of the third chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul begins to formulate an intercessory prayer for the church in Ephesus, upon the basis of the rich truths of the gospel which he had just been revealing to them in the first two chapters; but before he is able to express his prayer, he is drawn aside again to the greatness of the gospel mystery, and exults in the message which he has been entrusted with bringing to the Gentiles. This message is the gospel of the unsearchable riches of Christ, which in their depths and expansiveness had been hidden from the previous ages, but were finally being made known to all the world, viz., how all the nations of men, according to God's eternal purpose, were now being brought in to become full heirs of all the promises made to the saints, and how they had even more direct access to God the Father, and boldness to approach him such as even Abraham and Moses and other great men of God had never known. It is Paul's joy and passion to proclaim so great a gospel to every creature under heaven, not just so that many sinful men could come to know the free grace and boundless goodness of God, but so that, through this Church of redeemed sinners, the infinite and manifold wisdom of God might be displayed even before the highest angels and authorities in all creation.
Accordingly, Paul then picks up his prayer in verse fourteen, after he had left it for thirteen verses, and offers up a beautiful intercession for the saints, the pinnacle and capstone of which is the request that these believers might know with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the all-surpassing love of Christ, and that they might be filled with all the fullness of God. In a brilliant gospel paradox, this most impossible of things with men becomes possible with God, whose power to do good for us is above all that we could ask or think; and so we are strengthened to know that which surpasses knowledge, and to be filled with all the divine fullness that far transcends our finite boundaries. In this way, the glory of Christ shines through the Church with an eternal brilliance, thus consummating God's plan of the ages to display his great glory in Christ, by the Church.
Although there is much that could be said from these verses, I will content myself today with this observation: that our coming to an intimate knowledge of the greatness of the love of Christ is both the greatest treasure that we may obtain by the gospel of God's grace; and also the most perfect display of God's glory in the heavenly places. Now, as it is to our eternal profit and joy to know the love of Christ, and to the eternal glory of God that so great a love might be displayed in us, then actively seeking to know the greatness of the love of Christ is one great means by which we may strive to fulfill our created purpose of knowing and enjoying and glorifying God forever. There is no problem we may encounter in our lives that does not make sense and find a fitting place when we consider how the love of Christ employs everything for our good; and so, if we would know how to put every trial and difficulty and blessing and promise, and everything else that we encounter in our lives, to an eternally good use, the best way we may learn how to do so is first of all to trace out the boundaries of the almighty love of Christ. By the grace of God's Spirit I hope to make a start on this joyously everlasting labor by pointing out ten things wherein the greatness of the love of Christ toward us is displayed.
I. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in the unparalleled broadness of its essential nature.
The love of Christ is unique in that it is all the love of his infinite and divine nature; and it is also the tender and empathetic love of the true humanity he assumed for our sakes. There is no other love like this, nor could there ever be another such love from anyone, for there is no other god to love with infinite magnitude, and no other person of the triune godhead to take on flesh; and he, having assumed our nature, embraced it forever, with an incarnation that can never be repeated, but which will last for all eternity.
Oh, how necessary both of these aspects of the love of Christ are for us! If his love did not have divine power and authority, it would be impotent to help us, for our plight is infinite and it is impossible except by all the power of God that we should be saved. Many times, we as mere humans will love someone and not be able to help him, because the good thing our limited love desires for him is beyond our ability to obtain. A mother, for instance, may love her son and would willingly give up her own life to save him from trouble, but she cannot prevent him from pursuing wickedness and being brought to grief. But with Jesus, the boundless love which desires all things good for us is joined with the power of true deity, so that he cannot be stopped in his design for our good, even though an infinite mass of sin is piled up against it to prevent his good designs, yes, and though the infinite majesty and honor of God has been offended by us, and though infinite holiness cannot stand to look upon us, and infinite justice cries out against us, and a law infinitely implacable will not yield to our pleas; still, in the face of these thousand and more impossibilities, Jesus' love laughs at all obstacles, and proceeds to do the impossible, because his power is as great as his love.
But the most powerful love in the world would have no way to enter our hearts and comfort us if it were not also adapted to our trembling weakness; and so, Jesus wrapped up his love in true human flesh for us, so that he could love us both with divine power and with human sympathy. Who is more approachable than Jesus became for us, whose yoke is easier to bear (Mat. 11:29-30), who can understand more fully our weaknesses and diseases that he himself bore (Mat. 8:17), our sins that he took upon himself (1 Pet. 2:24), our temptations that he withstood alone (Mat. 4:1-11)? Even in our greatest human loves, we sometimes find things in the depths of our hearts that our loved ones do not understand, have not experienced, and cannot empathize with. But Jesus knows our downsitting and uprising, he knows us altogether (Psalm 139); he knows what our blackest sin is like, because he bore it upon the cross, and rose up to love us still. We often think, if my mother or father or spouse or close friend could but glimpse the depths of my evil heart, they would recoil in horror â€“ but Jesus has searched out all those depths of iniquity which we cannot even know ourselves (Jer. 17:9), he has borne those things in himself, and still he loves. As our sympathetic High Priest, he remembers we are dust, he is familiarly acquainted with all our sorrows and struggles, and he bears them all with us (see Hebrews 4:15; Psalm 103:14).
II. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in our unworthiness to be loved.
It is no strange thing when someone loves the beautiful and intelligent, the admirable and worthy. In fact, a man of great wisdom, courage, and charisma may even inspire many followers to give up their lives for his sake. But Christ's love is much greater than this, for when we were yet sinners, he died for us (Rom. 5:7-8). But consider more fully just how unworthy we are to be loved by the almighty Son of God: first, as mere creatures, we are infinitely below him in dignity by our very nature. We would think it an amazing thing if a powerful king or emperor paid any attention to us, or called us out from the crowds to enter into his private suites; but kings are our own kind, and have only a prominence of rank and position, not of essential nature. But Christ by his very nature is infinitely above us, and hence his love for us is far more amazing than any mere love of human to human could be. But not only are we by nature inferior to the Son of God, we are also sinful and disgusting in his sight; and not only have we sinned, which to Christ in his holiness is utterly loathsome (Psalm 119:104), but we have directed our sin personally against him (Psalm 51:4): we have rejected his kingly authority by violating his sovereign commands (1 Samuel 8:7); we have despised his infinite worth by forsaking the Fountain of living waters and hewing for ourselves broken cisterns (Jer. 2:12-13); we have perverted his glory and fashioned him into our own corrupt image (Rom. 1:21-23); and then, after flinging such great opprobrium at the most glorious holy One, we have added insult to injury, by neither wanting nor seeking to be reconciled and forgiven (Rom. 3:11), and positively resisting the free advances of the Spirit, and the gracious and heartfelt cries of the Savior for our salvation (Mat. 23:37-39; Eph. 2:1-3). How great the love of the Savior must be, that he still loved us when we were so unworthy to be loved, and when we hated and despised him who alone deserves to be loved and worshiped!
III. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in the extent to which he went in making us his own.
It was a great love of Jacob for Rachel that he labored for her seven years, and they seemed but a few days (Gen. 29:18-20); but how much greater must the love of our Savior be for us, who for thirty-three years set his hand to unspeakably great and difficult labors and never looked back, until he had finally made us his own! But no, it was far longer than thirty-three years, even, that he undertook his immense labors to redeem us â€“ for from all eternity, before the worlds had been created, he solemnly undertook to make us his own, and for all of history he has been engaged in no other work but that.
From eternity past until his incarnation, his love was preparing our salvation
Consider the times before he came to this earth for our salvation: from the beginning, he set himself forward as the Pledge and Guarantor of his people, and made the responsibility for their final salvation to rest upon himself alone. As soon as Adam fell into iniquity, he revealed himself to him as the Seed of Promise (Gen. 3:15), and ever thereafter, he never ceased to intercede for his people with the Father, and to mediate between them (see Zech. 3), no matter how great their rebellion became. Moses mediated for the people, and was willing to give up his own soul for them (Ex. 32:31-32), but soon he was overwhelmed, and groaned in unbearable frustration against them (Num. 11:10-15); and then, he died, and could no more go in their behalf to the Lord; but Jesus pledged to give up his soul for them in truth, and until then he never died, but always lived to represent them to the Father, and never abandoned them for their great sin. He groaned with them in all their afflictions, he bore with them in all their evil testings and rebellions, he delivered them from all their enemies, yes, although the cost of this victory was shown by type and shadow to be his very own blood, as that of a Passover Lamb (Ex. 12), and what's more, his being lifted up as a twisted and wicked serpent, the very image of their revolting sin, for all the world to look upon (Num. 21:6-9; John 3:14-15). He refused to send them into exile for all their great sin, and when he finally did, he himself went into exile from his beloved Father, that he might bring them back again (Lam. 4:20-22; Psalm 22:1). Being high and exalted above them, yet he condescended to come down and appear before them in visible form, at vital points in their history, so that they might be strengthened to persevere: thus, he came and talked to Abraham (Gen. 18), he appeared in a burning bush to Moses (Ex. 3), he went before his people as a pillar of cloud and fire (Ex. 13:21-22), he came down as the Angel [Sent One] of the Lord, appearing to Jacob as the man who wrestled until he had blessed him (Gen. 32:24-30), to Joshua as the Captain of the Lord's Hosts (Joshua 5:13-15), to the parents of Samson (Judges 13), in the visions of Zechariah, and other places beside (see Genesis 16:9-14; Genesis 21:17-20; Genesis 22:11-18; Genesis 24:7,40; Genesis 31:11-13; Genesis 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-6; Exodus 13:21/Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-23; Exodus 32:34; 33:2/34:9; Num 20:16; Num 22:22-35; Judges 2:1-5; Judges 5:23; Judges 6:11-24; Judges 13:3-23; 2 Sam 24:16-17;1 Kings 19:5,7; 2 Kings 1:3,15; 1 Chron 21:11-20; Psalm 34:7,9; Psalm 35:5-6; Isaiah 37:36; Isaiah 63:9; Daniel 3:28; Daniel 6:22; Hosea 12:4-5/Genesis 32:24-30; Zechariah 1:9-19; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 12:8; Malachi 3:1). So great and manifold was his work of love that he won innumerable Names of grace and glory, which his people still delight to call him, names such as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:9; Rev. 5:5), Shiloh, to whom the scepter belongs (Gen. 49:10), the Star of Jacob (Num. 24:17), the Lamb of God (Gen. 22:8; John 1:29), the Suffering Servant (Isa. 42, 49, 52:13-53:12), the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14), Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), the Root and Branch of David Isa. 4:2; 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12; Rev. 5:5), and that Name above every name, Jesus (Deut. 31:3, 23; Mat. 1:21), who saves his people from their sin.
For his thirty-three years on earth, his love was actually accomplishing our salvation
But for all that, after so great a display of unconquerable love for many generations, he had not even begun to scratch the surface of the greatness of love that he had treasured up for us; for when the fullness of the time had come, then he loved us fully, and stooped down to become one of us, truly human, weak and lowly, when for all eternity he had been high and lifted up and exalted. He created the highest angels, and they could only tremble in his presence, and veil their terrified eyes from his bright and fierce glory (Isa. 6), but he made himself for a time lower than the angels (Heb. 2:9), out of pure love for us. He came not just as a man, but as a despised and ignoble man, with no form or beauty (Is 53). He came unto his own world and possessions, and his own people received him not (John 1:11) â€“ they mocked him, despised him, refused him, blasphemed him. Then, they betrayed him to the devil, they joined hands with the Gentiles to destroy him, they lifted him up on a cross of shame, they made his blood flow down and his skin hang in shreds. He could have called twelve legions of angels to deliver him (Mat. 26:53), he could have come down from the cross in the terror of his fury and put us all to eternal torment, and who could have said anything about it but this, â€œHis love was so great that he endured unspeakable things, and what wonder that his patience has finally run outâ€? And yet, for all that, his patience did not run out, but he bore our insults and blows and clamored cries, and only cried out in response, â€œFather forgive them!â€ (Luke 23:34).
But even yet, the half has not been told. Oh, great wonder that his love should compel him to submit to such mistreatment from his own creatures, even from those for whom he was giving himself up; but wonder of wonders, how far beyond words, that he should submit to undergo the infinite wrath of his own Father in heaven, that he should bear the sin that above all things he hates, and be alienated from his eternal and delightful fellowship with the other persons of the Trinity, so that in a passion of agony, he could only cry out, â€œMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?â€ (Psalm 22:1; Mat. 27:46)!
From his ascension into eternity future, his love is actively providing us with all the innumerable blessings of our salvation
And still it has not all been told; for he went even to death, to the grave, because of love for his people; but love proved stronger than death (Song of Solomon 8:6), and he rose again for their justification (Rom. 4:25). He received a resurrection body as a pledge of the resurrection of us all (1 Cor. 15:20-22), thus condescending, in order to provide that great seal of love, to be joined permanently to this new human nature, and not to be ashamed of it (Heb. 2:11-15; Isa. 8:18), but in fact to consider that new and humble nature his greatest dignity, to delight in his new role and position as the God-Man as his great and eternal glory, to accept as the Name above every name that human name of Jesus (Phil. 2:5-11) â€“ and all this for his love to us, so that we might be joined to him who has taken on our nature, that we too might take on the nature of his divinity, becoming like God, being changed into the very image of God, even as he became like us in our manhood (2 Pet. 1:4, 2 Cor. 3:18; Rev. 5:12-13). And just as his love was laboring in all those times before his incarnation to prepare the way for his coming to redeem us; and in all the time when he walked on earth his love was purchasing that redemption for us; in the same way, all the time subsequent to his ascension his love is still laboring for us, certainly applying all the vast effects of that redemption to everyone whom he has loved. By his Spirit he is calling out all his people from the domain of Satan, and he is ever standing before the Father to plead for them (Heb. 7:24-25), he is ever sitting upon the throne of David to reign over and protect them (Acts 2:30-35; Heb. 10:12-13), he is ever present in their congregations to teach and shepherd them (Mat. 18:20; 28:20; Heb. 13:5), and to guide them into glory. And finally, when this age is complete, his love will still be ever active and ever increasing, and for all eternity he will be their Immanuel, their true light and joy, and his love will forever be the theme of their songs and the gladness of their hearts (Rev. 21:3-4, 23-25). How great is this love of Christ, that it has undertaken so many mighty and eternal works for the good of those whom he has loved!
IV. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in the constancy of his affection.
When men love, they may seem to have a love so great and passionate that it could never die, and they may love so deeply that they become sick and miserable whenever they are separated from their beloved, and feel as if they will die if they cannot look upon them. Amnon, the brother of Absalom, had such a love for his sister Tamar, but when his love had been consummated, it was immediately distinguished as a little spark separated from the fire, and he utterly loathed her instead (2 Sam. 13:1-19). How different is this love from the love of Christ! Even the best of human loves last but a lifetime, but his love was conceived before the world began, it was born with the dawning of human time, it grew to maturity with the climax of human history, and for all eternity, it will continue in its infinite fullness, so that we might forever grow in our knowledge of its breadth and width and height and depth, and still never plumb the farthest reaches of his surpassing love for us! Truly has the beloved disciple proclaimed that Jesus, â€œhaving loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the endâ€ (John 13:1).
His love is constant and unchanging throughout the history of the world
Whenever we are given a glimpse of those vistas of time before the world or time began, it is always to show us that even then, from eternity past, our Savior's love for us was there. This Lamb, out of pure, redeeming love, was slain from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Before the earth had been created, he was joyfully covenanting with the Father to take us as his heritage and portion, and to pour out his soul as an offering for our redemption (Psalm 2:8; Is. 53:10-12). And ever after that, throughout all of time, his love never wavered or faltered. No enemy was fierce enough to dampen his resolve, no proffered prize was precious enough to turn his eyes away from us (Mat. 4:8-10), no rebellion was too great for him to bear it all in unfailing love, no night was so dark that he did not bring another morning in which his mercies and steadfast love were new for another day (Lam. 3:22-23). Having once loved his people, he loved them to the end of their history as a nation, and when they had been defeated and overwhelmed, he loved them still and came down to be their light and life. Then, having loved his people in his life on earth, he loved them to the end of his own life, and went to the grave for them. And even then there was no end to his love for afterwards he arose to love them to the end of time and beyond.
His love is constant and unchanging throughout all our own turbulent lives
So we may see the unchanging constancy of his love in redemptive history; but if we would see this truth more familiarly displayed, let us look to our own lives and experiences, and see if we may not see it there as well. In our lives, before we knew his grace, we hated him, despised him, rejected his mercy and scorned his love; but he pursued us, he followed us hard, he would not give up; he sent his Spirit with his gentle wooings, he shattered our pride and self-sufficiency with the fierce threatening of the Law, he pleaded with us and stretched out his hands to us, and opened the blinded eyes of our hearts to see him hanging on the cross as a sin offering for us. A million times, we sought to put him off, but having once loved us, he loved us to the end of our pride and stubbornness, and with a soft but irresistible grace drew us to himself, until finally, with tears of repentance, we cast ourselves down at his feet, and knowing we deserved judgment and wrath, felt only free grace and immense pity instead.
But even after he had pursued us and made us his own, how many countless times have we turned aside to foolishness and sin, and forgotten our first love? How many sins have we made him to bear, after coming to him at the first for forgiveness? How many times have we been so hardhearted and dull of feeling and complaining and ungrateful that it is a wonder he did not at once cast us into the pit in his fury and impatience? But he has so loved us that he can no more deny us now than he could deny himself. In all our sins and shortcomings, he remains unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, he has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, even when we are unfaithful he remains faithful (Heb. 13:5; 2 Tim. 2:13). How constant and unchanging a love is this!
V. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in the manifold riches he has given us.
If we say that we love our children, but when they need an egg or a piece of bread, we give them a scorpion instead, we have no true love for them at all (Luke 11:11-13). Love always seeks the good of the beloved, and the greater the good, the greater the love must be which offers it. If this is the case, then how great beyond all understanding must the love of Christ be for us, for the riches he has given us in the gospel are immense, manifold, and precious beyond all understanding!
Just consider a few of the things he has freely given to us by his love: we were guilty sinners, and he gave us free forgiveness (1 John 2:12); we were children of wrath (Eph. 2:3), and by his blood he propitiated, or turned the Father's wrath away from us (Rom 3:25); we were wicked and he justified us (Rom. 4:5), imputing his own perfect righteousness to our account (Phil. 3:9); we were God's enemies, and he reconciled us to him (2 Cor. 5:18); he imparted holiness to us (1 Thes. 3:13), he gave us his own Holy Spirit to dwell within us as the seal of his favor (Eph. 1:13-14), he gave us adoption as the very children of his own Father (Rom. 8:15), he gave us all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2-3) and true, abundant, eternal life (John 10:10; 17:2-3); he gave us nothing less than every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3); and beyond all these things, he gave us the most precious treasure of a true and abiding union with himself, in whom we have all these riches, so that, in a manner impossible to conceive, we have been filled in our finite nature with all the fullness of the infinite God, Jesus adding to his divine nature a truly human nature, and insolubly joining his human nature with our own, so that the fullness of his divinity is within us, guiding and changing us and preparing us for glory (Eph. 3:16-19).
So then, we have unspeakable and eternal spiritual gifts; but in this age, too, we have been granted many good and necessary gifts by his great love. First of all, we need sustenance for our physical bodies (Mat. 6:31-33), and he gives us all things richly to enjoy, all those things which are sanctified by the Word of God and by prayer, so that we may delight in them, and eat and drink to his glory (1 Tim. 4:4-5; 6:17; 1 Cor. 10:31). Then, he has given us in this life brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and houses and lands a hundred times over (Mark 10:29-30)), in his precious Church, through which his love overflows from one saint to another, so that all in her ranks are loved and cared for here below. And also, he has been faithful to give us even persecution, afflictions, and chastisements (Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12), which are necessary to prepare us for glory. Consider how great a blessing of love this is: for in the first place, it is a great pain to his own heart, who grieves when his children grieve, who suffers great sorrows in his mystical body, who cannot easily bear to see them in pangs and distress; and yet, difficult as it is, he faithfully applies his chastening hand, not willingly (Lam. 3:32-33), but so that we might afterwards enjoy the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:5-11). Will we despise this gift of chastening? Not if we have considered how precious it is: for those who are still enslaved to sin will never inherit the Kingdom (1 Cor. 6:8-10); and thus, it is in our best interests even to cut off our right hand and gouge out our eyes, rather than to be cast out of the Kingdom (Mark 9:43-48). But who among us, even knowing that his hand was full of gangrene, and would kill his whole body if not soon removed, would have the courage and strength to take out a blunt knife and hack it off? But Jesus sees our weakness and knows our inability to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh, and so in pity he takes the scalpel in his own hand, and with a gentle but painful stroke, feeling to the depths of his heart every pang and cry, he cuts away our gangrenous sins, and fits us for heaven when we are too weak to pursue righteousness ourselves. Thus we learn to say, â€œBefore I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep your wordâ€ (Psalm 119:67). This is a temporal, but very good and necessary gift of the love of Christ.
VI. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in his subjection of all else to his purpose of redeeming us.
Whenever there are two or more purposes governing any of our actions, it is clear that neither purpose is so great as it might have been; as if, for example, I drive into town to buy three or four different items, when no one of them alone would have been sufficient to motivate me to make the trip. But the greatness of Christ's love may be seen in this, that he has subjected all actions and everything under creation to his one great purpose of redeeming a people; and the supremacy of that purpose argues for the greatness of his love of those for whom he has subjected all other things for their eternal good (Rom 8:28).
All creation is subject to the great design of Christ's redemption of a people.
Even creation was designed to be subservient to God's design of redeeming a people for himself. The earth was created for the children of men to dwell upon (Psalm 115:16), and they were given a beautiful Garden in Eden where they might enjoy God's presence. And when men had fell, they soon saw that the whole earth was designed as a stage in which the great drama of redemption would be acted out: God took one small people and placed them in the middle of a world of many great and mighty nations, determining their times and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17:26), first of all so that he might show his power in redeeming a people small and weak; and second, so that he might cause his redemption to overflow from this small land, and embrace every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation from the whole earth (Gen. 17:4-5; Rev. 5:9). In order to accomplish this redemption, he then ordered the affairs of all the nations for the peculiar good of his small and afflicted chosen people: he rebuked kings because of her (Psalm 105:12-15), he gave up nations as her ransom (Isa. 43:3), he raised up the mighty emperor Cyrus as an unwitting shepherd of his people (Isa. 44:28-45:6), to bring them back to their land and perform all his bidding, he wielded proud Assyria as an axe to accomplish his salvation (Is. 10:5-6, 15), he ordered and foretold the mighty revolutions of all the notable empires of history, all for the sake of his people.
But not only did he subject the earth and all its inhabitants to the purpose of redeeming a people, he also subjected the very heavens and their angelic and glorious inhabitants to the same. The heavens were made vastly expansive beyond the humble borders of earth to show how great is God the Creator, and they declare his glory (Psalm 19:1); but most poignantly is it the glory of his love that they display: for our sins were heaped up to heaven (Ezra 9:6), but his love was greater yet, and overcame them all. The stars of morning shouted with joy at creation (Job 38:7), but all the stars and angels of creation rejoice more fervently still at the conversions of one poor, lost soul (Luke 15:7, 10). The heavens are filled with innumerable stars, and God calls them all by name (Psalm 147:4), but the seed of Abraham is more numerous yet (Gen. 15:5), and he knows every hair on their heads (Mat. 10:29-31), he loves them all perfectly, and is bringing them all to rejoice before him forever, as a vast multitude no one can number, from every nation and tongue upon the face of the earth (Rev. 7:9). The angels excel man in glory and strength, but they are destined to be subject to man (Psalm 8:6; Heb. 2:5-6; 1 Cor. 6:3), they are sent as ministering spirits for those about to inherit salvation (Heb. 1:13-14), they delight in and long to peer into the mysteries of the grace that has been shown to us his people (I Pet. 1:12).
So then, earth itself and all its inhabitants, and the very heavens and all their inhabitants, without exception, are employed by the wisdom of God for our salvation. Thus he used pharaohs and devils, Jews and Romans, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Herod, that old serpent, all for the one purpose of doing whatever his will had predestined to take place, namely, the accomplishment of our redemption (see Acts 4:26-28).
But even more poignant a display of the greatness of his love, is that he subjected even his own most beloved and treasured children to the end of bringing us all into his salvation. How he loved Abraham, but he made him wander as a pilgrim and an outcast, that he might not be made perfect without us (Heb. 11:8-9, 40). He loved Jacob, but made the days of his pilgrimage few and evil (Gen. 47:9). And which of his beloved apostles and prophets did he not give up to tortures, shame, starvation and death, to soften us hardhearted rebels and bring us into his Kingdom (e.g. Heb. 11:32-39)? How many martyrs have poured out their blood as seed, how many persecuted missionaries in Central Asia today are suffering unspeakable things so that they might call out worshipers of Christ, how many mothers are in this room right now who, day after day, pour out their complaint to God in the bitterness of their souls, longing for the redemption of their loved ones? Christ feels every sorrow more deeply than we can know, he treasures up all the tears of his saints in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), the death of his saints is most precious to him (Psalm 116:15), and still he delays the time of their being avenged, just so that all of us might be brought in by such patience and love in the people of Christ (Rev. 6:9-11). Who is it that has suffered and labored so that you might be brought to Christ? Your parents? A teacher or missionary? Some humble servant of God who stammeringly shared with you the message of the gospel? In all their difficult labors and prayers to bring you in, Christ was suffering with them, he was suffering for your soul, he was suffering because of love to you.
All history is subject to the great design of Christ's redemption of a people.
Every part of history was designed by the Father for the Son's accomplishment of the redemption of his people, to be applied by the Holy Spirit, and culminating in an eternity of rest and rejoicing in the presence of God. This shows the surpassing love of Christ, which governs the one unchanging purpose of all of time and history.
VII. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in the particularity with which he loved us.
When a man loves a woman deeply enough, he shows that love by taking her unto himself and solemnly vowing to have and to hold her alone, and to reject the advances and embraces of any other woman. If he proves unfaithful to his vows, and shares his love with other women, he has terribly offended the first woman of his love, and has wrought a great crime and offense. In a similar way, the greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in his willingness to take those alone whom the Father has given him, and whom he knows by name, and to make them into his one, spotless bride, whom he loves with all his heart, and in favor of whom he will reject all others. He could have had any portion and inheritance in heaven or on the earth, but he has chosen his people as his portion, and in them he delights. From all eternity, he asked for this one people, and none other, to be his bride and inheritance (Psalm 2:8; 28:9; 33:12; 74:2; 78:71; 94:14); and he has never been unfaithful to this people in word or action or in the thoughts of his heart, but with a fierce and jealous persistence and particularity, he has wooed and pursued and won her as his glorious wife.
All throughout the gospel of John, Jesus declares that he loves and is giving himself for those alone whom the Father has given him (John 6:39, 45; 17:2, 6, 9, 11, 24); he knows his sheep by name, he gives them eternal life, he will never permit them to be lost, even though it should cost him his own life (John 10:1-18). And finally, when it does in fact cost him his life, and he offers himself up as an atoning sacrifice, he prays for them to the Father, interceding by his own testimony, not for the world, but for those whom the Father has given him, both in the present time and in all the ages thereafter, as he looked down the corridors of time and saw every face of those who would believe on him by their testimony until the end of the age (John 17:9, 20).
The Church is the one true Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself up (Eph. 5:25-27); it is in her alone that his delight and affections rest, he rejoices to purify and beautify her with the brilliant linen and fine gems of his own righteousness and gospel grace (Psalm 45:13-15). He sees her as the fairest among women, he delights in all her features and graces, he adores her at length, and will not rest until he can retire with her alone in the delights of his pleasant gardens (Song of Solomon 1:8, 4:1-16). To be loved so exclusively and jealously and passionately even by the lowliest of men must be a cause for wonder and delight, but to be loved so fiercely by him who is altogether lovely, who is sweeter and greater and more beautiful and majestic than ten thousand princes (Song of Solomon 5:10-16), to be loved as the only beautiful bride upon earth who is worthy of him, yes, and to be made worthy of such a Bridegroom by his own loving sacrifice â€“ what love must that be?
VIII. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in the purity of his motivation.
Among men, those who are loved are often they who are able to make some return upon that love: we love the rich, because they can repay us by purchasing pleasant gifts, or the honorable, because we may obtain some greater dignity in the eyes of others by our association and friendship. Even in the case of truer love, there is often some lesser motivation mingled with it, as when a man truly loves a woman, and desires to please her and care for her, but he is also lonely, and wishes companionship for himself, or he longs for children, or desires the familiar intimacies of the married life, or many such things.
But nowhere in all creation may be found a love so pure in its motivation as the love of Christ for his Church: he made all things and was by rights the heir of all creation; and even if he had never made anything, he was already fully satisfied, utterly self-sufficient, without need or want but entirely complacent and full of joy in the fellowship of the Trinity. Why then would he who was rich with every kind of possession and pleasure imaginable become poor for our sakes (2 Cor. 8:9)? Why would he leave his glorious dwellingplace in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), and become homeless, hungry, shivering, tired, poor, and wretched? What could he have to gain from us worms and wretches? It was only love, pure, divine, overwhelming love, that could have constrained him to lay aside the full expression of his divine glory for our salvation.
We may see this purity of love most clearly emphasized in Christ's choice of us as his bride: for not many mighty were called, not many noble, not many wise according to the flesh; but God has chosen the weak and poor and beggarly people of this world, to show the more clearly the greatness of his love and redeeming mercy (1 Cor. 1:26-31). Jesus could have chosen and taken on the nature of angels, who are far greater than men in dignity and appearance; but he chose Adam's race instead (Heb. 2:14-16); and he could have chosen the wise, rich, powerful, beautiful, and esteemed among men, but instead he chose us, who are ordinary and unremarkable. Surely, then, it must be love, pure and overwhelming love alone, that could have motivated him.
IX. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in his causing that very love to arise in our hearts, that we might have fellowship with him in love.
God loved us in Christ so deeply and fully that we, seeing his great love and being overwhelmed by it, could not help but love him and all those others for whom he died; and thus his love became reciprocal, and flourished among his people who had been full of hate and self-interest. We love â€“ both him and his Church â€“ because he first loved us (1 John 4:19-21). Because he loved us so greatly, he loved our love back to him, and he caused that love to him to arise in our hearts, and to ascend to him upon his throne, where he delights to dwell among the praises of his people. He loves to see us delight in him, and so he makes us delight in giving love back to him who gave all his love for us. Now, we are all one as the Persons of the Trinity are one, and we all share in the same fellowship of love (1 John 1:3). God the Father loves us with no other love but that by which he loves the Son (John 17:23); the Son loves us with the same love by which the Father loves him (John 15:9); the Spirit who loves to dwell with the Father and Son loves us and comes to dwell within us too, so that we all might be one. This love is unspeakably great.
X. The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in that our redemption uniquely declares his divine glory.
God's great and final purpose in all of creation and redemption is to display his divine glory, the sight of which becomes the eternal and ever-increasing joy of his people (e.g. Isa. 43:7; Rom. 9:23; Eph. 2:7); but what is it, ultimately, that displays this glory and provides this joy? It is only the love of Christ. God is faithful, merciful, just, righteous, good, patient, pure â€“ and we may see all those attributes gloriously displayed in Christ's accomplishment of our redemption. But of no other attribute is it said, as it is of his loving us, that it is what God â€œisâ€. But God is love. And that he is love may be seen nowhere more clearly than his redemption of us in Christ Jesus. This is the unique and highest glory of the godhead; and this glory is displayed in us, as vessels of mercy; it is shown in the heavenly places in God's everlasting kindness toward us in Christ; it is seen in how the Name which the Son of God won in the accomplishment of our salvation became the Name which is above every names. â€œHerein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the propitiation for our sinsâ€ (John 4:12).
With a weak and trembling hand and weeping eyes overwhelmed by the brightness of glory, we have traced out just a few lines of the illimitable breadth and width and height and depth of the love of Christ; but for all eternity we will press on further into this sea of delights, and our joy will increase forever with our knowledge of his love. I would leave you with the admonition, first, to be searching out the depths of the love of Christ at your jobs, in your homes, wherever you go. There is no difficulty you will face that the knowledge of the love of Christ will not answer; and there is no better way to prepare yourself for your eternal heavenly home. And second, as our Lord himself taught when the sinful woman bathed his feet with her tears, if we have been forgiven much, if we have been loved much, we must love much in return. Let us devote ourselves this week to loving Jesus, and keeping his commandments, and caring for the littlest and humblest of his brothers here on earth, for this is pure religion and acceptable to God.