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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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  • « Book Review: Small Things, Big Things, by Michael A. Milton | Main | Most Influential Books »

    Chapter Five: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in the Manifold Riches He Has Given Us

    The Greatness of the Love of Christ
    Chapter Five: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in the Manifold Riches He Has Given Us

    Another consideration by which we may assure our hearts of the greatness of the love of Christ for us is this, that he has freely provided for us innumerable gospel blessings which are vast and rich beyond all measure. Even among men, we understand that love which is love indeed always seeks to give good and pleasing things to the beloved. 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 proffered 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!

    1. The essence of the gospel gift: union with Christ by the agency of the Holy Spirit

    The first, greatest, and all-encompassing gift of God's love for us is Christ himself, and the greatest gift that Christ in his love has ever given to us is his Holy Spirit. All the nations seek very piddling and contemptible treasures of gold and silver, power and prestige, fine foods and drinks, and luxurious clothing and houses. Because this is where their treasure is, when all those things become moth-eaten and corrupt, they mourn and wail for their loss (Mat. 6:19-21; James 5:1-3). Someday, the great world city full of fine and delectable things will be destroyed with a fervent heat (2 Pet. 3:10), and then all those who loved those things will mourn forever, and the smoke of their torment will arise without end (Rev. 18:1-19:5). But the people whom Christ has loved have a different treasure, which they esteem greater than the riches of Egypt (Heb. 11:26), and this treasure will never be taken from them, but will satisfy them for all the ages to come. This is because their treasure is God, who cannot die, and whose glorious nature can never be searched out or exhausted.

    God is the portion of his people

    When God first called Abraham our father out from his place of idolatry in Ur of the Chaldees, and sent him wandering as a pilgrim through the promised land of Canaan, he encouraged him with one great and all-inclusive promise: “Do not fear, Abram, I am your Shield and your exceeding great Reward” (Gen. 15:1). Abraham had left his idols behind, and all those earthly things in which men trust, but in exchange he was given the reward of God himself. God was now his God, and the essence of the promise that God had given to him was that he would forever be God to him and to his seed after him (Gen. 17:7).

    This was the whole sum of man's first estate of blessedness in paradise lost: Eden was paradise not for the beauty of the garden nor the delicious variety of fruits, but only because of this, that God himself walked there, and filled man's soul with the immense pleasure of fellowship with him who is altogether lovely and infinitely glorious. That was man's first and greatest treasure, and the loss of that was the very heart of the immense curse that he inherited for his sin. Now, when God promises to Abraham that he himself would be his reward, he is signifying the gain of all that Adam had ever lost.

    Ever after this great promise to Abraham, the same principle, that God himself is the reward and portion of his people, remains always in effect: “You are my Lord,” the sweet psalmist cries out; “I have no good apart from you,” that is, there is no blessing or satisfaction for me that does not derive immediately from having this eternal and glorious God as my own God, who is always and unfailingly for me, with all of his immense and desirable and powerful attributes. And so he goes on to say, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance”. Then, to reassure his soul that this almighty God really is his God, and belongs to him utterly and forever, he rests his soul in the coming resurrection of Christ, by which God was sealed to him and all believers as their reward and portion forever, prophesying by the Holy Spirit that, “You will not let...your Holy One see corruption” (Psalm 16:2, 5-6, 10, ESV, capitalization added; cf. also Acts 2:24-32).

    That God himself is the true portion and inheritance of his people was the same blessed hope and comfort of all the saints, and not just David. Asaph, as well, confesses that, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26, ESV). Then, Jeremiah declares that God is the portion of all of Jacob, that is, everyone who by faith is a child of Abraham, and a citizen of the true Israel of God (Jeremiah 10:16); and after Israel is cast off and sent into exile for her sins, he still clings to this hope, and professes even in his most solemn and piteous lamentation, “The LORD is my portion, therefore I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:24, ESV). So then, we see that from the first call of Abraham even until the Babylonian captivity, the one great portion and hope of the people of God was only God himself.

    How unspeakably great a portion this is! All that God is, all his eternal glory and divine majesty, every precious and powerful attribute that all eternity could never suffice to uncover before our wondering eyes, belongs to us in the Covenant of Grace. What good thing could we ever desire, when all the infinite power of the godhead, all the indescribable beauty of the nature of deity, all the resources at the disposal of divine wisdom and power, are all directed to our good and salvation? Are we hungry? The cattle on a thousand hills are God's and God is ours (Psalm 50:10). Are we naked? The very righteousness of God, in Christ, is our robe to clothe us in splendor and beauty (Isa. 61:10). Are we confused? But all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge now belong to us, for the very God of wisdom is our portion (Col. 2:2-3). Are we distressed by sword and famine, by tribulation and persecution, by death or life or angels or rulers or things present or things to come or height or depth or any other creature? It may be so, but in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, for his love has given us the treasure of God himself; and if God is for us, who can be against us (see Rom. 8:35-39)? “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6, ESV).

    God becomes ours in his gift of Christ

    But how is it that the holy and perfectly just God can be ours, when we are dirty and sinful, and his eyes are too pure to look upon evil (Hab. 1:13)? The answer may only be discovered in the love of Christ; for Christ, in love, came down to bring us back to God (1 Pet. 3:18), he looked and saw that there was no man to save us, and that there was no way that we could enter his holy presence, and then his own arm brought salvation, and opened up the gateway to the dwellingplace of God (Isa. 59:16-17). We were far from God, but Christ became near to us, so that we might come to him in faith and so be joined again to God our portion.

    In the Old Testament, God's presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Temple, and this presence of God in Jerusalem was the great treasure of Israel. Because God's Name and presence were in Jerusalem, no enemy could overcome her; and it was only after he removed his presence that she fell to her enemies, and was taken captive by Babylon (cf. Ezek. 10-11). But God had not abandoned his people forever, he was only preparing something greater for them; for several hundred years later, when the time was fully come, he sent his people his greatest gift of all: the long-awaited Christ. The eternal Son of God took on flesh and became the Temple of God, where the presence of God dwelt among his people. This was ultimately how God demonstrated his love for us (Rom. 5:8). This was his greatest gift to us.

    Now, Jesus has taken on human nature and filled it with all the fullness of the divine nature (Col. 2:9). And Jesus has become ours. He took on human flesh so that he might be nearer to us, so that he might be one of us, and become joined to us by an eternal and intimate bond. He now dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17), so that we ourselves are his Holy Temple (Eph. 2:19-22; see also 1 Cor. 6:19). Now, we are filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19), for Christ dwells in and with us, and in Christ dwells all the fullness of the godhead bodily (Col. 2:9).

    This means that God is ours in a manner more intimate and precious than we could ever have conceived – he is not just with us, he does not just grant us access to himself, but he is within us, he has taken up residence in our hearts forevermore! This means that we can never be defeated by sin, the world, Satan, or our own fleshly lusts, unless omnipotent deity is defeated first. It means that we can never suffer want or know the absence of anything truly for our good unless the boundless springs of the divine nature are first dried up. It means that there is nothing good which we do not have ceaselessly and abundantly provided for us. Even those things we lack in this life are withheld only according to divine wisdom, for the purpose of a greater good; and in the life to come, there will be no lack, but only an eternal increase of joy in God our portion, made ours forever by the gift of Christ, who came to be joined together with his Bride, and thus to fill her with the fullness of God forever.

    Christ becomes permanently joined to us by the power of his Spirit, whom he has poured out upon us

    But even after Christ became incarnate, and brought the very presence of God to men, and walked among them as their Immanuel, he still had a greater gift to give them, that would make God their portion and reward in an even nearer and more intimate way. Because he loved his people, and desired their greatest good, he was pleased to go away for a time, so that he might give to them the greatest gift of his love, the Holy Spirit. Just as the Father's greatest gift to the Church was his Son, by whom he communicated his own self perfectly and finally, so the Son's greatest gift to the Church was his Spirit, by whom he likewise communicated himself perfectly and intimately. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to his disciples just before he went to Calvary, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7, ESV).

    In accordance with this promise, Jesus did in fact give his Spirit to his disciples when he left. First, he breathed on the apostles, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22); and then, on the Day of Pentecost, he poured out the Holy Spirit upon all his Church (Acts 2). Now that we have received this greatest gift of Christ to us, the firstfruits of the Spirit, we are sealed as God's and God is sealed as ours (cf. Rom. 8:9-17, 23; Eph. 1:13-14). Now, we have all that we could ever need, and can never fail to enter the reward that God's grace has prepared for us, of being in a place where righteousness dwells, and where God walks among his people. Every gospel gift that all the wisdom and power of God could ever have conceived of is ours in this one all-inclusive gift of union with Christ: and we are united to Christ by the power of his Spirit, whom he has freely given to us as the seal of his eternal and illimitable love.

    2. The spiritual and eternal blessings of union with Christ

    Justification

    Let us mention just a few of these gospel blessings that are ours by virtue of that one great gift of union with Christ. First is the blessing of justification. Because we are united with Christ, we are so identified with him, that his righteousness is legally considered ours and our guilt is legally considered his. The Old Testament image of this was the worshiper's laying his hand upon the head of a spotless sacrifice, as if to say, “My life is now bound up with the life of this lamb, and what happens to it is also happening to me” (cf. Lev. 1:4; 3:2, et al). Then, when the lamb was slaughtered and burnt upon the altar, because of the legal identification between it and the worshiper, so that it functioned as the representative and substitute for the worshiper, the verdict was then given, that the sinful worshiper was not guilty – he had already paid the full price for his guilt, as it were, when the lamb was slaughtered in his place, and he had thereby died to the demands of the Law for punishment.

    Of course, in the sacrificial system this was all just figurative and instructive. A mere lamb, no matter how spotless and pure, was never a sufficient substitute for man who was created in the image of God. And so, no matter how many sacrifices were offered, there was never found a fitting sacrifice, and the same inadequate sheep and bulls and goats were offered up repeatedly, thus signifying that a perfect sacrifice had not yet been provided (Heb. 10:1-4). Seeing this, Jesus, who knew that all those animal sacrifices were signs and promises of his own suffering, took the human body that God had prepared for him, and perfected forever all those whom the Father had given him by the once-for-all sacrifice of himself (Heb. 10:5-10). Jesus' sacrifice really was sufficient to justify us forever, for his sufferings for sin were infinite, his righteousness to merit reward was infinite, both his sufferings and righteousness were fully human, and both were legally reckoned to be ours by virtue of the substitutionary, representative role that he voluntarily took.

    On the cross, Jesus took all of our sin and guilt and transferred it legally to himself – he became a curse for us, inasmuch our sin deserves the curse of God (Gal. 3:13); and he was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Then, by his infinite passion, he fully satisfied the Father's wrath against that sin, and he fully exhausted the eternal curse of the Law. Whereas before, God would have been unjust to declare us righteous or to refuse to punish us, now he would be unjust ever to declare us guilty, or to pour out upon us any wrath or punishment whatsoever. Our sin demands death, but because we are united to Christ, we have in fact died with him, even the bloody, penal, and wrath-exhausting death of the cross (Rom. 6:1-4; 7:4; Gal. 2:20).

    But even as great as this reality is, it is still only half the truth; for Jesus, as a human, had accomplished a perfect obedience to the Law and had merited eternal and infinite rewards, and when he took our guilt, he gave us in its place all the merit he had accrued in a life of obedience. He imputed, or legally reckoned, our sin to his account; and at the same time, he imputed his righteousness to our account. God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21). We no longer have to hope in our own righteousness, but the very righteousness of God, that is freely given to us by faith (Phil. 3:9; Rom. 1:17; Jer. 23:6); and for God to reject the righteousness of God would make God unrighteous! How much more sure could our hope of eternal favor be, when the gospel gift of justification, just one of many blessings that come from our union with Christ, is fully ours?

    Sanctification

    Our desperate plight, ever since the sin of our first father Adam, was basically twofold: we were legally, objectively guilty and deserving of the just, penal wrath of God; and we were also subjectively filthy, morally depraved and twisted by that first sin. In the Old Testament Temple ministry, both of those problems were addressed: the need for objective redemption from the punishment sin deserves was represented by the various blood sacrifices, all of which looked ahead in manifold ways to Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The need for inward cleansing was represented by the various sprinkling and cleansing rites that the priests administered. This, too, was fulfilled by Christ, who suffered on the cross to provide, not just forgiveness, but also cleansing, sanctification, and re-creation into the image of God (see Heb. 9:11-14).

    When the Old Testament priests wanted to make water for purifying the people, they offered up a pure, red heifer as a burnt sacrifice, and mingled its ashes with water, which they would then sprinkle upon the people for their cleansing (Numbers 19). This purifying water signified the Holy Spirit, who would take the effects of Christ's death and apply them to the hearts of his people for their cleansing, just as the ashes of the heifer were conveyed to the people by living water, in a mysterious figure. So then, just as the justification of the people, represented by the blood sacrifices, was fulfilled by Christ on the cross, so also the means for the cleansing, or sanctification of the people, represented by the offering up of the red heifer, was also fulfilled by Christ on the cross. This is why the Evangelist John, when speaking of the crucifixion, emphatically declares that Jesus' pierced side flowed with both blood and water – blood for our justification and water for our sanctification.

    The gospel gift of sanctification means that God will certainly make our hearts holy, so that we come to delight more and more in true holiness, and begin to reflect more and more accurately the image of Christ, who is the perfect image of God (2 Cor 3:17-18). God did not just declare us legally righteous, in justification, and then leave us with our unholy lusts and affections; he declared us righteous and then began the process of making us reflect what we legally and actually are. Because we are united to Christ, who hates sin, our remaining sinfulness, being in opposition to him who dwells in our hearts by faith, is made the object of his holy war against corruption in our inner persons. The struggle is very real and difficult, and will never in this life be completely over; and yet, we may be utterly sure of final victory, no matter how difficult the good fight of faith may become, because he who lives in us is omnipotent, and cannot finally lose.

    Just think how pleasant and necessary both of these gospel-gifts, which have been made ours by union with Christ, are for us: if we were justified but not sanctified, heaven would become a kind of hell for us. Although we could not but be brought to heaven, inasmuch as the very righteousness of God now demands it since we are legally righteous and without sin, yet we would be miserable there, because our corrupt and depraved hearts would always long for the sin and filth that we had left behind. But if we were sanctified and not justified, we would still be legally obligated to suffer eternal punishment, and we would forever be suffering God's wrath, even though our sanctified hearts had come to delight in righteousness and long for him. Hell would be doubly hellish to us, because first of all, we would know the wrath and terror that sinners will come to know; but also, we would be longing for the heaven that they do not long for, since our sanctified hearts would have come to know the true glory and delight of holiness. But in Christ, we are now justified and sanctified both, and in the blessed confluence of these diverse but complementary gifts of grace is eternal joy.

    Regeneration, faith, and repentance

    The means by which the believer comes into the possession of the gospel-gifts of justification and sanctification are, respectively, faith and repentance for the former, and regeneration for the latter. These gifts are the initial and preliminary gifts of the gospel, occurring at the very moment that Christ is joined to a person by the power of the Holy Spirit whom he pours out upon him. When the Spirit unites someone to Christ, he gives him a new, living heart (see Ezek. 36:25-27; John 3:5-8), which responds immediately by repenting and sorrowing over past sin and corruption and turning in faith to the Savior. By this Spirit-wrought faith he is justified, and from the power of the new, living principle infused into him by the same Spirit he begins the process of sanctification, that is, putting to death the misdeeds of the flesh and striving for holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). All of these things, regeneration, faith, and repentance, are in no wise our own contribution to salvation, but are God's gifts to us (see Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 11:19-20; Phil. 1:29; Acts 5
    31; 11:18; 1 Cor. 4:7), through which he pours out further and greater and complementary gifts. When Christ gives us his Spirit, to regenerate us and work in us faith, he is showing his redemptive love in a great and wonderful way.

    Freedom from sin and victory over Satan

    Part of our inherited misery from Adam is that we, who were created to be free and willing friends of God, became enslaved to sin and Satan, and were ensnared in hopeless and horrible bondage (John 8:34, 44; Rom. 6:20; Tit. 3:3; Heb. 2:14-15). But in his love, Christ, the Son, has set us free, and now we are free indeed (John 8:32, 36). This, too, is a gift entailed by our union with Christ; because we are joined to him, our chains can no more hold us than they could hold him – and even the chains of death and sin could not hold him, but he snapped them as a thread touching the fire, even as Samson snapped the strong cords of bondage from his powerful arms (Judges 16:9, 12). Christ bound the strong man who held us captive and set us free from his domain (Luke 11:21-22); and he has placed within us a new principle of godliness that can no longer be enslaved to sin, but will strive against it and ultimately prevail (Rom. 6:15-23). Along the same lines, Christ has given us victory over him who held us captive, that old Serpent, the Devil (Heb. 2:14-16). Because we are united to Christ, Satan can no more defeat us than he could defeat our Champion. To get to us, he must now overcome the One who dwells within us. But Jesus has already defeated our Foe, he has already crushed the Serpent's head and put him to an open shame (Col. 2:14-15), and now he promises as well to crush him soon beneath our own feet (Rom. 16:20).

    Reconciliation to God

    But victory over Satan is small compared to our next gospel-gift of peace and reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:14; Rom. 5:1)! Before Christ came to live in our hearts, we were at peace with Satan, he was our father (John 8:44); but we were at enmity with God (James 4:4; Rom. 5:10; 8:7). All the omnipotent power of the godhead was set in array against us, we were objects of his wrath, about to inherit eternal destruction away from his presence (Eph. 2:3; 2 Thes. 1:9); but now that Christ is ours, God can no more be angry with us than he could be with his own beloved Son. All the divine power that was set to destroy us is now set in array for our defense, against all our enemies, because Christ is in us and for us. We were enemies of God and he was an enemy against us, but now we are the friends of God, because Jesus the Son of God has called us friends (John 15:13-15). This full and free reconciliation is one of the sweetest gospel-blessings that Christ has purchased for us.

    Adoption as God's children

    But if it is sweet to be reconciled to God and made his friends, when we were enemies and estranged, how much sweeter is it to be adopted (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:4-7; Eph. 1:5)! We are not just accepted, but embraced as children, made the brothers and sisters of Christ himself, and joint heirs with him (Rom. 8:16-17; Heb. 2:11-13)! God loves us as children, he loves us as he loves Christ himself (John 17:23), because Christ is in us and we are in him. We are joined together with closer bonds than the familial ties between brothers and sisters, he is closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24), and we, like him, are now sons of God. Behold, what manner of love is this, that we should be called the children of God (1 John 3:1-2)! But this sweet adoption is just one more of the immense and lavish gifts of the incomparable love of Christ.

    Eternal life in glory

    Christ, who dwells within us, is very Life of very Life, he is eternal and unchangeable in his being, and even death could not destroy him, but he was raised again to an incorruptible life. Because this great Savior, who has the keys to death and hell, and lives forever and ever (Rev. 1:17-18), is now within us, then we may never be harmed even by the last enemy, death. Death is no terror to us, the grave has no sting, because its power was sin, and sin has been broken on the cross (1 Cor. 15:53-57). Whether we fall asleep in Christ or are called up to meet him in the air, we will never be overcome by death, but will live in him for all eternity (1 Thes. 4:13-18; 2 Cor. 5:8). But our eternal life will not be as this life now – we will not suffer or grow weary or know the sorrows and struggles occasioned by the remnants of sin and corruption in our hearts, but instead, we will be fully and finally glorified, our bodies will be made new, like Jesus' resurrection body, and our hearts will be fully conformed to his own blessed image. Ah, that will be glory indeed, and it is certain because Christ, the great gift of the Father to his people, dwells within us, he is ours, and if he is ours, then all things are ours, forever and ever.

    Innumerable other blessings

    We could continue for many pages, laying out in order the sweet and multitudinous gifts that Christ's love has prepared for us, and still never mention them all. Who can tell of the free forgiveness, the perfect redemption, the certain perseverance in faith and holiness, all the riches of wisdom and knowledge, the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and in sum, every good and perfect gift which comes down freely from the Father of Lights (James 1:17), and which is made ours by our full and free interest in the Son, who is united to us by the power of the Spirit? What can we say? If God did not even spare his own Son, what good thing will he withhold from us (Rom. 8:32)? And if the Son did not hold back the Holy Spirit, then what will he refuse us, when we come through him to the Father in prayer, and by the power of the Spirit seize the immense blessings that are ours for the taking? Do we lack any good thing, whether faith or joy or hope or peace, or any other such blessing? Full store of all these things is laid up already in our name, we have but to come in faith to the heavenly treasure house and take out as much as we desire, with no limit or constraint. We already have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). And if he has freely given us such infinite blessings beyond all compare, how great must his love for us be? Eye has not seen nor ear heard the things his love has stored up for us (1 Cor. 2:9-10) – oh, what a love is this love of the Savior!

    3. The necessary but temporal blessings also freely and richly provided by Christ

    Discipline

    We have spent much time discussing the spiritual blessings that Christ's love has lavishly bestowed upon us, and it is fitting that we have done so. The spiritual rewards are those that will remain with us and increase our joy for all eternity; and there are those who do despite to the grace of Christ, and trample upon him in disdain, and mock him by trying to use his name to horde up for themselves their petty gods of gold and silver, automobiles and houses, pain-free experiences in this life, and worldly treasure heaps of dung and dross. These false prophets blaspheme the gospel by reducing its infinite, glorious worth to earthly health, wealth, and prosperity. They prey upon widows and fatherless, and grow fat upon the flesh of the weak, and spit upon the dear face of Christ. But although they enjoy a fleeting and paltry reward now, they will receive only torment and despair for an eternity to come. Until that day, all you who love and treasure Christ, flee from them! It is a blessed and pleasant thing to experience now even the fellowship of his sufferings, which is worth far more than all the treasure chests of Egypt, and so be certain of sharing in the eternal power and pleasure of his resurrection as well (Phil. 3:10-11). But if we would count ourselves his, and walk as he walked, and look ahead to the rewards that sustained him even when he endured the cross and despised the shame (Heb. 12:1-4), then we too must suffer for a season (1 Pet. 5:10-11). We too will be persecuted, and enter our reward only through tribulation and suffering (Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12). But so far is this from manifesting a lack of love, that it is actually a very great and necessary gift of the love of Christ for us.

    It is easy to lose sight of how deadly and dangerous an enemy our sin really is. Just consider what sin has already done to you. Sin has robbed you of your happiness, destroyed your most precious relationships, separated you from your loved ones, forced you to the sweat and drudgery of toilsome labor, subjected you to pain and privation of every kind. It has made you as cruel and bestial as the animals of prey, as debased and filthy as swine, as menial and grubbing as worms of the earth, as foolish and blind as the lemmings who madly compete with each other to see who can plunge to their own deaths more quickly. Sin has robbed you of the eternal joy for which you were made, of seeing and delighting in the God who created you, and ruling over his earth in sweet unity with others of your kind; and if you persist in it, it will bring you eternal death and torment with no relief. No habitual sinner will enter the Kingdom of God; and the hell which sin impels you toward is so severe and unspeakably terrible, that Jesus himself said of it, that it would be much better to cut off our hands and pluck out our eyes, than to let sin prevent us from entering into the presence of God (Mark 9:43-50).

    But which one of 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? What great love it is, then, that compels Jesus, when he sees our weakness and knows our inability to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh, to take the scalpel in his own hand, and with a gentle but painful stroke, feeling to the depths of his heart every pang and cry, to cut away our gangrenous sins, and fit us for heaven when we are too weak to pursue righteousness ourselves. Thus we learn to say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). Although this discipline is fatherly, and so comes ultimately from God the Father, yet there is also a sense in which it is the operation, through the Spirit, of Christ, the great Physician, who knows when to cut away rotten flesh and when to bind up. This gift of the love of Christ is temporal, but very good and necessary. In fact, if we have experienced none of this temporal gospel-gift of painful affliction and loving chastisement, then we may not even account ourselves Christians at all (Heb. 12:7-8).

    Relationships

    Another of the temporal gifts that Christ's love provides for us, is the earthly relationship of love and intimate fellowship that we have even now with all the saints. When we came to Christ we may have lost many friendships. Our own families may have rejected and despised us. But we gained a hundredfold more mothers and father and sisters and brothers (Mark 10:29-30), we have been given the precious gift of fellowship with all the saints, every week we are privileged to gather together in order to worship God in unity and spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24-25). How sweet and how precious are all the dear saints of God, and even though we will not be gathered together as one body in one place until that blessed marriage feast of the Lamb, yet we still have foretastes and glimpses of that day here and now. When we come together as the Body of Christ on earth, we enter heaven for a time, we are mystically transported to the New Jerusalem with all the saints and angels of God, and our love and fellowship is deeper than the world could understand (Heb. 12:22-24). This is a temporal, but exceedingly great gift of Christ's love. In fact, inasmuch as these sweet saints of God form the very body of Christ, when he gives them to us to love and help and encourage us, he is in a manner communicating his own self to us, just when we need him most (see Eph. 4:8-16). And when we love and labor for the saints as they have loved us, we may have the joy of knowing that we are giving ourselves up to Christ. When we do something good to the least of them, we are doing it to him (Mat. 25:34-40).

    Physical goods

    Finally, God in his lavish grace has provided for all the physical needs that we may have. He has not been stingy in his provision of food and clothing, but he knows that we have need of those things before we even ask, and when we seek his Kingdom and righteousness first, he adds them all unto us according to our daily need (Mat. 6:25-34). He provides for us richly all things to enjoy, and enables us to eat and drink to his glory one day, and to relish the fine things with which he has filled the earth and acknowledge his divine skill in doing so (1 Tim. 6:17; 1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Tim. 4:3-5); and the next day, perhaps, he may grant us the joy of abstaining from those good things for a season just so that we might delight in him more immediately. Either way, when we have Christ, we may do all things clearly and with a good conscience, giving thanks and rejoicing in him (cf. Phil. 4:11-13). Whether we have the gift of singleness, and may set our hearts on him alone and not take care for how to please a wife or husband; or whether, perchance, we have the gift of marriage, and may delight in portraying the mystical relationship between Christ and the Church in our wedded lives of sacrificial joy (Eph. 5:22-33); either way, it is a blessed, temporal gift of the love of Christ to us, and we may rejoice with a perfect heart and clear conscience as we live to his glory in the estate in which he called us (1 Cor. 7:24-40).

    4. Conclusion

    In sum, the great love of Christ has richly provided us with every good blessing conceivable, both in this life and the next. All things, whether easy or difficult, painful or pleasant, temporal or eternal, he has wrought together for our greatest possible good (Rom. 8:28). He has provided us with every good gift and will only increase our riches for all eternity. What a love is this! We are about to inherit the whole world, because the love of Christ has desired nothing less for us. Be glad in this great love of the Savior, be thankful, and rejoice – “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's” (1 Cor. 3:21-23, ESV).

    Posted by Nathan on February 8, 2010 12:31 PM

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