Chapter Seven: 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.
The general goodness and patience and forbearance of God, all displayed in his common grace, which gives rain and sunshine to the just and the unjust (Mat. 5:45), and freely proclaims the good news of full pardon to anyone who will come to him in faith (e.g. John 3:16; Mat. 24:14; Col. 1:23), is wonderful in and of itself. The thrice-holy God (Isa. 6:3), who cannot endure the sight of sin, is pleased to show his patience through the immense trials and tests that our fallen race have put him to, in despising his word, breaking his commandments, and spurning his grace; and Jesus Christ, himself Almighty God and the very One into whose hands the Father has given all authority to judge all men everywhere (John 5:22-23), both living and dead (Rom. 14:9; 2 Tim. 4:1), even now exercises patience and restraint towards the whole world of sinners without exception (Rom. 2:4; 1 Pet. 3:20).
But as marvelous as that undeserved beneficence is, it is as nothing to the love that Christ has in particular for his Church; and it is well for us that it should be so, because even the wonder of the undeserved forbearance of common grace can never finally profit anyone. God offers the water of life freely to all who will come (John 7:37; Rev. 22:17); but no one of his own accord will ever come, all love their own broken cisterns rather than the Fount of every blessing, Jesus Christ our Lord (John 6:44; Rom. 3:11; Jer. 2:13).
How precious, then, is the particularity of Christ's love! If he did not set his love upon each of us by name, if he did not call us out from all the rest, and bring us to himself, and stop at nothing to overcome our hard hearts of evil resistance, then our eternal doom would be certain. But in the particular love of Christ we may rest; and when all the demons of hell rise up to condemn us, and when all the world is opposed to us, and all the sins and fleshly lusts of our hearts would turn us aside, we may still say, â€œBegone from me, all you cruel enemies! Is not my name written in the Lamb's book of life (Rev. 3:5)? Is it not graven on his palms (Isa. 49:16), does he not bear it always on his breast (cf. Ex. 28:12)? If you would turn me away from eternal life, then you must first erase my name from the nail-scarred hands where it has been written with a stylus of iron!â€. If Jesus loved me only as he loves the rest of the world, then I too might perish with the rest of the world on the Day of Judgment, unless I prove stronger or wiser or nobler than they; but since Jesus has loved me particularly, because, that is, he has set his love fully, freely, and efficaciously on his bride alone, out of all the women on earth, I may rest my soul in the certainty of his discriminating and elective love. This is a very comfortable and necessary aspect of the wonderful love of Christ.
1. Christ loves us uniquely as his one bride, chosen above all other women
In the fifth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul proclaims that the great mystery of the institution of marriage is this, that it was designed as a foreshadow of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-33). In marriage, a man leaves father and mother, withdraws his heart and affections from all other women on the earth, and clings with an eternal and indissoluble bond to his wife alone. Henceforth, throughout all of life, all that he is and has are for her, and there is no resource in him or accessible to him that she does not have full authority to request of him if it should at all benefit her physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being. Other women may come to that man for love and comfort, but he will turn them away, and say, â€œSuch intimate care and support are not yours to claim, they belong to my bride alone, and I will give them to none but herâ€.
In the same way, we who have been joined by the power of the Holy Spirit to Christ as our husband may come to him with any need whatsoever, and apply to him for relief with full authority; and he will always hear us, and give us whatever is best for our eternal good and salvation. But those who are not Christ's indeed, cry out as they might, will never receive anything of eternal good; for his heart of love is not adulterous, that he should give himself to anyone but his bride. A man may give other destitute women food and clothing, and other such physical necessities; but he may never give any woman but his wife the intimate and personal comforts reserved for her alone who is of one flesh with him. In the same way, Jesus will often supply the people of this world with food and houses and clothes and many goods, and what's more, he will even provide some of them with the rich blessings and sanctifying influences of being outwardly united to the visible Church â€“ but the spiritual treasures of union with himself he reserves for his true bride alone, who is of one spirit with him.
There are many people in this world who are not joined to Christ as their only husband, but who have many Baals and lovers in the world, to whom they give away all their hearts. These may ask Jesus for all of the crass earthly goods that they desire above him, and he may even condescend to give them what they request. But someday, he will judge the whole world; and when they cry out at that time for entrance into the heavenly Kingdom, he will say, â€œI never knew you; depart into everlasting fire. Your lamps were not trimmed, you were not dressed in the wedding garments of my righteousness, you are not mineâ€ (cf. Mat. 22:1-14; Mat. 25). There will be much weeping then, for the husbands and lovers that they sought on earth will not be able to save them, and they will finally know how much better it would have been to be the bride of Christ, even though they despised his bride while they were on earth.
That Jesus is for us as a husband and we are to him as a bride was the truth taught from the very beginning of the divinely-established estate of marriage. When Adam, who was in some respects a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14), first sought a bride, he looked upon every creature on earth, and found no one worthy. Then, God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, as it were of death; and he arose, and behold, a woman worthy of him had been taken from his very side, she was of one flesh with him, her very life and existence had been formed from his breast and were hidden in his heart (Gen. 2:18-25). The Father then presented this woman to him, and he loved her and joined himself to her, and forsook all other earthly creatures for her sake; and she loved him in return, and became fruitful in his embrace. In the same way, when all the world and every creature in it was found to be unworthy of our Christ, then the Father sent him down to sleep in the dust, as it were, he sent him even to die upon a cross; but from the broken body of Christ, while lying asleep in the grave, he then formed a new bride, of one flesh with him, whom he had given life from his own life when he fell asleep, and whom he had then made bone of his bone. When Jesus awoke from the dead, the Father presented to him this Bride, and he loved her alone of all the creatures on the earth, for she was made like him by the life-giving Spirit of God, whom he breathed into her nostrils. Her very life had been taken from his pierced side and is even now hidden in his breast as he sits at the right hand of the Father (see Col. 3:3).
This bride alone was she whom the Son of God desired and set out to win from all eternity past. He stopped at nothing to make her a fitting bride for himself, for she was his delight and treasure. He saw her in her blood and filth, spread his robe over her, and took her into his chambers (Ezek. 16:1-14; Song of Solomon 1:4). And then, in spite of all her sin and filth, he loved her self-sacrificially, and gave himself up so that she might be cleansed and washed and made clean and pure for himself alone (Eph. 5:25-27).
In Psalm 45 we may hear of the particular and unique love that Christ has for his one, true bride: â€œHear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear,â€ the psalmist urges this bride: â€œforget your people and your father's house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people. All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind herâ€ (Psalm 45:10-14, ESV). Someday, the whole world will admire the beauty of this bride, and seek her favor with gifts, and gaze upon the glory of her multi-colored robes, interwoven with gold. But what is even more astounding, the very King of kings, to whom the psalmist here sings his love song, who is very God and whose throne endures forever (Psalm 45:6), will desire her beauty. He will care nothing for the glory of this world's kingdoms or the fleeting beauty of the proud queens of this age, for his heart is set upon his bride alone. What then could hold you back from forgetting your people and your father's house, and bowing to the Lord Christ, and giving yourself up to him alone in holy matrimony?
In many places in the Song of Solomon, the Lord Christ also speaks of his great and particular love for his Church, under the type of Solomon and his Shulammite bride. There, he calls her the most beautiful among women (Song of Solomon 1:8) and admires her lovely features and incomparable graces at length (Song of Solomon 4:1-8). â€œYou have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride,â€ he exclaims when he has reflected upon her beauty; â€œhow beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride, how much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spiceâ€ (Song of Solomon 4:9-10). So it was that Jesus solemnly vowed not to drink again of the pleasant wine of the grape vine until he could drink it anew with his bride in the heavenly Kingdom (Mat. 26:29) â€“ her love was dearer to him than wine, and he would not drink of it until he could drink it together with her whom his soul loved. She is nearer to him than a sister, for he is the firstborn from the dead, and has made us all his brothers and sisters (Rom. 8:29); yes, a sister and more, for she is also his very bride, in whom he delights, and for whom he will give up his life so that he might purify and adorn her with all things lovely and pleasing to him.
Some day, when Christ has fully formed and beautified his bride, he will come down and consummate his marriage with her, and she will feast with him in the New Jerusalem; but at that time, the sensual and wicked harlot of Babylon, whom the world has gone fawning after, will be destroyed with the smoke of eternal torment (Rev. 19:1-9). If you have looked upon him in his matchless beauty, if you have seen him as One altogether lovely, the fairest among ten thousand (Song of Solomon 5:10, 16), if you but desire him above all other husbands on this earth, you may leave your father and mother and bow down to him; and he will take you and join you to his Church, his Bride, and will love you forever and give himself up to you, and dress you in the royal garments of holiness and beauty and righteousness, so that all the world will marvel. And then, someday, when the purifying trials of this life have been completed, you will have a place with him at his table, and be brought up to rejoice before him at his marriage feast: why then will you draw back, why will you not rather come and claim him as your Husband and King? Is it not wonderful beyond description so to be loved by the King of all kings?
2. Christ loves us as one people, given to him by the Father
The particularity of Christ's love for his Church may also be seen in this, that he has reserved his redemptive love for all whom the Father has given to him; those whom the Father has loved, he has loved, and in his love for them he has been faithful and unchanging. When the great gospel-prophet of Israel tells of the redemptive love of Christ, the suffering Servant of God, he declares that when Jesus pours out his soul as a sin-offering, then he shall most certainly see his seed and be satisfied; from the travail of his soul he shall justify them, and he shall be given them as his portion, even as the spoils he won for bearing their transgressions and arising to intercede for them (Isa. 53:10-12). It was this promise of a seed, of the many whom the Father had chosen for him, that compelled him to go to the cross and suffer for their sins. He had their names on his heart, every one of them, when he poured himself out as sin and a curse, and rose again as a Mediator and Priest. He did not offer himself up for everyone in the whole world, and hope that many should come to him; he offered himself up rather for those people whom the Father had covenanted to give to him, and interceded for them with unutterable groanings, until he had made them all his own; and only then, when they all had been made his, was he satisfied with his work.
John the Evangelist speaks much of this particular love of Christ for his people, in the fourth gospel. Although many people came to him with outward faith, and even desired to make him king by force (John 6:15), yet he did not entrust himself to them all (John 2:23-25), for he knew who were his, and he had reserved himself for those alone whom the Father had given to him. He knew that no one would come to him except those whom the Father had given him (John 6:44); and that all whom the Father had given him would indeed come (John 6:37, 45). But of all those whom the Father has given him, and who will unexceptionally and exclusively come to him, he will lose none, but raise all of them up on the last day, even as the Father has given him authority over them for their eternal good (John 6:38-40, 44; 17:2).
Jesus' greatest act of love for people, the giving up of himself so that he might raise them up on the last day, is thus reserved for those in particular whom the Father has given him. This is why, when he is about to offer himself up on the cross, he intercedes to the Father for them alone, and specifically disavows and repudiates as beneficiaries of his intercession all who have not been given to him by the Father. He is giving himself up as a sacrifice for sin; but this sacrifice is not intended for everyone without exception, and so he pleads on the basis of that self-sacrifice for all those, by name, whom the Father has given to him, but not for those who are of the world, and who have not been chosen by the Father (John 17:2, 6, 8-9, 11, 24). This is a very comforting truth for all who have come to Jesus in true, Spirit-wrought faith; for they know that if they have come to him, it is only because they have been taught by the Father; and if they have been taught by the Father, then they are among those whom the Father has given to the Son; and if the Father has given them to the Son, then the Son has offered himself up for their sins, and has pled for their salvation on the basis of his sacrifice; and if Christ is the one who has died, and who, moreover, has risen again and intercedes for them, then who is the one who can condemn or bring any charge against them (Rom. 8:33-34)? But they who teach that Jesus offered himself up indiscriminately for all, and that some of them for whom he offered himself up will finally be lost, cannot assure themselves so strongly of their eternal salvation simply because Christ has died for them. They slight the greatness of the love of Christ when they deny its particularity; and in slighting it, they rob themselves of much comfort and assurance.
3. Christ loves us as one Shepherd, who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him
One other way by which we may see the particularity of the love of Christ is in his character as the Great Shepherd of the sheep (1 Peter 5:4; Heb. 13:20). David, when he was hard-pressed, drew much comfort from this fact, that the Lord was his Shepherd, and that, therefore, no matter what difficult place he found himself in, God's mercy and redemptive love would pursue him and save him and lead him to green pastures, and ensure his eternal good (Psalm 23). A good shepherd knows all his sheep by name, and in that characteristic, Christ excels them all (John 10:3).
It is a most comforting truth that Christ is our Shepherd, and knows us all by name! When God's people were tended by other, cruel shepherds, they were beaten and starved and driven to desperation; but then, in his mercy, God promised that he would send them another Shepherd, a greater David, to tend them forever. This Shepherd would know all the sheep, and he would separate the false and cruel sheep from those who belonged to him in truth, punish all the false shepherds who scattered his flock, and destroy every enemy and wild beast that oppressed them; and of all of his own sheep, he would lose none whatsoever (Ezek. 34). When Christ came, he fulfilled that promise, and became the perfect Shepherd of his sheep: he came that he might shepherd his people, Israel (Mat. 2:6), and having set his hand to become their shepherd, he did not rest until he had gathered together every last one of them into his fold. It was not enough that he had the ninety and nine; he still lacked the one, and he wandered through desert and wilderness and cliff and crag until he had found it, and carried it home on his shoulder rejoicing (Mat. 18:10-14).
In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd, and tells his disciples that he knows every one of his sheep and calls them all by name. He will never abandon his own sheep, but will bring them all into his flock, from every fold in which they dwell, that is, from every nation under heaven; and it is for these sheep alone, whom the Father has given him, that he will lay down his life. Other sheep, who are not his, do not know his voice and will not come to him; but he knows all his sheep and all his sheep know him, and he gives himself up for them, and gives them eternal life which no one can take away from them (John 10:1-30). Because Jesus is our Shepherd, who knows all his own sheep particularly and by name, all who hear his voice, and know him and come to him, may assure themselves that they can never perish or be snatched out of the hand of Jesus. How surpassingly sweet is this particular love of the Savior!
4. Christ's particular love ensures the perfect accomplishment and application of his redemptive work to all who are his
That the love of Jesus for his Church is particular and discriminate is a most necessary and wonderful doctrine. It is at once evident that a love which guarantees the good of its recipient is greater than a love which merely offers and hopes for it; and the love of Christ guarantees the eternal salvation of all for whom it is intended. Some will say that the love of Christ is only sufficient to make salvation available for all but certain for none. If that is so, then it is certain that no one will benefit from it, for all are blind and hardened in sin, and there is none who understands or seeks God (e.g. Rom. 3:10-18). If the love of Christ is indiscriminate, and there are some who avail themselves of it and some who do not, then it is their own wills and abilities that make them to differ from others, and not the love of Christ (against the testimony of the apostle in 1 Cor. 4:7); and if they make themselves to differ, they may justly lay claim to some part of the glory for their salvation. Not all may be accredited to the love of Christ, but the credit is divided between Christ's love and the Christian's merit, by which he differs from others who were given the same love, but did not put it to the same use. This minimization of the love of Christ also minimizes our joy and security and comfort, for that which we gained by making ourselves to differ from others, we may likewise lose by making ourselves once more like them who do not put grace to a good use. But oh, how much more blessed is our position when we attribute every last jot and tittle to the surpassing love of Christ! Then, our assurance will be sweet and immovable indeed.
But the love of Jesus is strong enough to accomplish all its intention certainly and eternally. The atoning love of Christ is sufficient, not just to make justification possible, but to justify (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 8:34). It is sufficient not just to offer redemption and cleansing, but actually to redeem and cleanse (Eph. 5:25-27; Tit. 2:14); not just to make the Father propitiable, but actually to propitiate him (1 John 2:2; 4:10); not just to offer life to the dead, if they will stir themselves up to reach out for it, but actually to raise them up (2 Cor. 5:14-15; Jn 11:43-44). How much greater is this particular and effective love of Christ than an indiscriminate and insufficient love such as some rest their hopes upon!
It would be a much lesser and hopelessly unobtainable love if Christ had only died to make pardon available for all who believe, and not actually and certainly to save all whom the Father has given him, by freely giving them all things necessary for life and godliness. If Christ died for the sins of all, why then are all not saved? Because they have no faith? But is not unbelief likewise a sin for which Christ died? If so, then all for whom Christ died may be certain of eternal life, for he has died for their unbelief too; but if not, then no one may obtain eternal life, for their unbelief is still unatoned for (see John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ). But Jesus has both atoned for the sin of unbelief that all his people have been guilty of, and he has guaranteed by his death to provide for them the faith and repentance necessary for their life and godliness.
Faith, as all other things, is a gift of the love of Christ to his Church (see John 3:27; Phil. 1:29; Acts 16:14); and therefore, all his Church will certainly be saved. Christ died in love to make firm the New Covenant (Mat. 26:26-29); the New Covenant guaranteed faith, a new heart, and the true knowledge of God to all its members (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27); but as not all people without exception have been or will be granted faith, repentance, and the knowledge of God, it is indisputable that Christ did not die to establish the New Covenant for all. Christ's death, that is, was with the express intent of providing faith and a new heart; not all people have faith and a new heart; therefore, Christ's death was not intended for all people. This is a most reassuring truth for all who have come to Christ in faith, for it means that all those who have faith, all those, in other words, for whom he willingly gave himself up, will certainly and eternally be saved. Oh, how great is the love of Christ, that it will stop at nothing for the eternal good of all upon whom he has set it!
There is no one in all the history of the world whom Christ has loved redemptively, who will not be brought to final glory. If you have come to him, then the Father has taught you and led you, and he will not cast you out. His love is for you particularly and certainly, and it will never let you down, for all eternity. Will you not come and embrace such a love? There is no other love like it, so powerful and certain to accomplish all its design. And it is all yours, O sinner, if you but come and drink of his mercy! Come, take hold of the pierced hand of his love, trace out with the finger of faith your own name, to him most precious, graven into his very palm. Come and welcome to Jesus Christ, plunge yourself into the depths of his love, you will find that it is for you fully, particularly, and unendingly, if you only come.