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  • « John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787). On the covenant of works | Main | Book Review: Roots: Let the Old Testament Speak, by Alec Motyer »

    Chapter Six: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in the Constancy of His Affection

    The Greatness of the Love of Christ
    Chapter Six: The greatness of the love of Christ is displayed in the constancy of his affection.

    The unique and unrivaled greatness of the love of Christ for his Church may be seen very clearly in this, that of all husbands his love is the most faithful, constant, and unchanging. 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 extinguished 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 to increase 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, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

    1. Jesus is faithful and unchanging in his essential nature

    The ultimate source and sure guarantee of the constancy of Christ's love for his Church is his eternal, immutable, divine nature. Because Jesus is very God of very God, he cannot change in his being, affections, or intentions.

    First, we may assure ourselves of the immutability of the very being and nature of Jesus, the Son of God. The Father of lights is unchanging: in him, there is no mutability or shadow of turning (James 1:17); and as the Father is, so is the Son, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Because Jesus is God, he is eternally perfect in all of his attributes, and if he ever changed, he would be denying that part of his character from which he had turned aside to something else; but he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13), and therefore, he cannot change. And if he cannot deny himself, he can never deny those whom he has joined to himself. If he did so, he would no longer be God.

    Not only is Jesus immutable in his essential character, but he is also immutable in his affections. When he loves someone, he loves him to the end (John 13:1). When he gives himself to someone, it is not for a moment, but forever; having made himself ours, he sealed his affections to us for all eternity with the promise, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5); and again, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20). In this, Jesus is also showing himself very God, for the affections and compassion of God for his people have always been constant and unfailing. In his bitterest afflictions, the weeping prophet Jeremiah was able to say, “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:21-23, ESV). If he could rest his soul on so unfailing a compassion in such desperate straits as he found himself, where will we ever find ourselves that we cannot hope confidently and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord, which Jesus, having once loved us, would move all heaven and earth to bring to us?

    Furthermore, even as Jesus remains ever the same, and even as his affections never change, so also his plans for the people of his love do not change. He knows the plans he has for us, plans for good, and not for evil (see Jeremiah 29:11), and he will certainly accomplish them. In fact, there are very few things more consistently impressed upon the people of God throughout all the scriptures than this, that God will certainly accomplish all his will, and bring about in the future those things he has purposed and declared from all eternity (e.g., note that common refrain in Isa. 40-48). God is not a man, that he should repent, or change his mind (Num. 23:19-20; 1 Sam. 15:21). His mind is single and unchangeable, and he will certainly accomplish what he has planned (Job 23:13-14). The counsel of the Lord will stand, and whatever he does will be forever (Psalm 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Ecc. 3:14). This means that Jesus will never cease loving and saving and bringing home to glory all of his people; for his plan for them, that he will not repent of, is their eternal bliss in his presence. This is the good work that he has begun, and will certainly complete (Phil. 1:6). It is what he has both eternally planned and solemnly sworn to do, so that we might have perfect confidence in two immutable things: God cannot lie, so we can have confidence that he will preserve us to the end, according to his oath; and he cannot deny himself, so he will do what his own heart and eternal counsel have set out to do (Heb. 6:17-18).

    In all these things, Jesus, who is the very Son of God, shows himself utterly faithful and unfailing in his love for us. He is immutable in his being, and so he cannot change toward those whom he has joined to himself; he is immutable in his affections, so he cannot cease loving them; and he is immutable in his designs, so he cannot leave undone in them that which his grace has begun. “I the LORD do not change,” God declared to the prophet Malachi; “therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6, ESV).

    2. Jesus is faithful and unflagging in the pursuit of his loving task of redemption

    We may see this constant love and faithful dedication of Jesus, the Son of God, at all points in his pursuit of redemption for the Bride given to him by the Father. 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.

    No enemy or obstacle could discourage him

    Just think how many enemies struggled against the fulfillment of Jesus' redemptive designs, and how many obstacles there were to his final accomplishment of them; and yet, when did any of those things discourage him or sway him in his constant and unchanging love? This was the prophecy of Christ: “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isa. 42:4, ESV). The passage is speaking of Jesus' messianic task of bringing righteousness and salvation to all the nations, and it tells of his lowliness and gentle meekness, so that the most bruised reed among his weak and battered people he would not break, and the most faintly smoldering wick of their faith he would not extinguish. No matter how little cause his people might give him to persevere, and no matter how great the antagonism against him would be, Jesus would not faint or grow discouraged until he had provided the righteousness for which the nations were longing. And this prophecy was perfectly fulfilled when he came down to earth, and by the power of the Spirit poured out upon him from the Father, plodded along through all the weariness and difficulty without fainting or giving up in despair.

    Immediately after the Spirit came upon the Messiah, he drove him out into the wilderness, where he fasted for forty days, and was very faint; and then, in his time of weakness, the greatest enemy man has ever seen came upon him and flung at him every fiery dart of temptation he could muster. But do you think Jesus became discouraged, or began to waver in his resolution? No, his love was as great for his people then, when he was starving for a crust of bread, as it was when a short time later he was full and basking in the fickle admiration of the crowds. Even when we as men love our wives sincerely, if we become weak and tired, our feelings of affection may flag, and we may answer them shortly or abruptly; but Jesus' affections never flagged at all, no matter how Satan raged against him for those affections, no matter how hunger and fatigue and sickness ate away at his body and cast shades of unutterable weariness across his mind.

    But if the opposition of Satan and the weakness of the flesh he took on for our salvation were great obstacles to his constant affection, and occasioned immense temptations for his love to wane, how much greater an obstacle must it have been that not his enemy, but his own friend, who ate at his table, should have lifted up his heel against him (Psalm 41:9)? But Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, treacherously betrayed him to the enemy for silver, and still his love for his own did not falter in the face of so immense a blow, but he walked willingly and steadfastly to the cross where that betrayal led him, even when at a mere word from his lips the whole host of soldiers fell down trembling, thereby making it evident that he was entirely unconstrained in what he was about to do (John 18:1-11).

    This betrayal, as sharply painful as it must have been from one whom Jesus had called out and blessed with immense privileges, still had to be less imposing a barrier to the constancy of his love than the flight of the eleven, and the threefold denial of Peter. From the beginning, Jesus knew that Judas was a devil (e.g. John 17:12; 6:70); but Peter, and the rest of the eleven, were his own, for all eternity, and he had never wronged them in any way, but rather gave himself up entirely to them, for their everlasting good. And yet, in his fiercest trial and hour of darkness, the three most intimately acquainted with him could not even keep watch for one hour (Mat. 26:40), the eleven were scattered like sheep when the shepherd was struck (Mat. 26:31), and Peter, who had known love beyond measure, cursed madly, and swore that he did not know the man (Mat. 26:69-75). Was there ever such a wound in all history? But even then, when all others would have changed their love into hatred and well justified rejection, Jesus never wavered in his affection for his own. He gave Peter such a look of sorrowful but infinite compassion that his hard heart was melted within him never again to be callous toward his great, loving Savior (Luke 22:61-62). He later asked to be crucified upside down, so uniquely precious had become to him that act of Jesus to hang upon the tree for his sins, even when he was denying him – and is it any wonder? What love is there like that love of Jesus anywhere else in all the world? The response may have been great in the changed heart of Peter, but even so it was less than so unfathomable a love deserved.

    But there were greater obstacles even than these to jar the strong love of Jesus, and to quench the flame of compassion he had always burning in his heart for the elect. What are all the forces of evil compared to the almighty wrath of God? What is the pain of betrayal by earthly friends to the searing loss of fellowship with the infinitely blessed Father of lights? What is the taste of the sour wine and gall of mockery to the foaming cup of God's infinite displeasure and punishment? If all of these divine and infinite obstacles stood in the way of our Savior's loving us to the end, and of saving us in spite of every hindrance, then surely even the love of infinity would stumble, would it not? But no, crying out in utter anguish and despair beyond human words, he still offered up the same firm resolution that he had set his heart upon from all eternity, “Father, let your will, which is to redeem this people, be done” (see Luke 22:39-46). Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, his love never wavered. All eternity will not suffice to explain how such a thing could be.

    Here is the riddle of eternity,
    And here the mighty conflict of the ages:
    Shall God contend with God in unity
    With God's own will? How fierce a war he wages!

    What hellish sorrows fling him rudely down,
    And wring the bloody sweat from every pore,
    Which glistens on his brow, a crimson crown
    Forged in God's fire, of fleshy human ore!

    Behold him shudder at the thorny path,
    And groan at the divine eternal plan:
    Ah, shall my God drink down my God's own wrath,
    And reel and stagger like a drunken man?

    Mark how the bitter precious springs well up,
    Full fountain-orbs that flow in speechless grief,
    As from my hands he takes the bitter cup,
    And steals away my sin, ah, blessed Thief!

    Oh, matchless wonder, that it should be so!
    Shall boundless God in stricken Man be bound,
    Humility's heel crush the world's proud Foe,
    And mercy free in cruel wrath be found?

    No proffered prize could turn his eyes away from his bride

    Such immense obstacles never for a moment changed the surpassing love of Christ for his people, and that alone is cause for wonder beyond all limit; but how much more ought we to wonder when we realize that there were not just negative obstacles to drive him with force from his love, but also positive enticements to draw him away with allurement? And he never wavered for all the proffered prizes in the world, having set his heart upon his people alone, and upon their eternal salvation. Even the strongest of men, who could endure fierce tortures without betraying their friends or nation to the enemy, may be snared by the wiles of a beautiful woman, or enticed by riches or fame or any of those things for which men lust. Samson could not be held by the strongest bonds or the highest gates, he laughed at thousands of armed men and put them to flight with a donkey's jawbone; but for the glinting eyes of one beautiful woman he lost his own, and was put to cruel slavery. But Jesus knew all the temptations that this world could offer, and could have been drawn aside to any one of countless admirable rewards, if only he turned his back on his sorrowful work of the cross; but nothing could shake his resolve or turn his eyes away from his bride, whom the Father loved and he loved too.

    How great a temptation must be the fierce appetite of hunger and thirst to a man who for forty days in a harsh wilderness has tasted nothing at all? And yet, when he was tempted with his necessary food, he esteemed greater nourishment those words of his Father, which promised that he would redeem his people through his immense sufferings, and he scoffed at this temptation, and did not forget his bride for the sake of food. He knew that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which comes from the mouth of the Father (Mat. 4:4); and he considered it his meat and drink to do the will of the One who had sent him, which was to redeem us and bring us back to heaven (John 4:31-35).

    But even beyond hunger, especially for One who in his nature is infinitely glorious and worthy of reigning over all the world, and basking in the applause of men, must be the temptation to be glorified by men, and receive authority over all the nations of the world. Was this not the very prize offered to him by the Father, and which he so richly deserved (see Psalm 2)? And yet, when the Tempter offered him without pain or privation that for which he was destined to suffer immense torments, he scorned this enticement, and preferred to press on through shame and obscurity so that he might win his bride (Mat. 4:8-10). It was not the world that he loved, but his bride, who was in the world but not of it (John 17:14-18), who was lowly and scorned and despised in the eyes of the great and mighty nations, those glorious and prominent dignitaries which are Satan's to give away. When the fawning multitudes thronged him, when they would even have made him king by force (John 6:15), he was not flattered or puffed up as lesser men would have been, he was not drawn aside from his purpose of redemption, and he did not commit himself to them (John 2:23-25), because he knew from the beginning who were his own, and his steadfast love for them was a greater good than all the fleeting admiration of the crowds.

    Then, Jesus could also have been enticed away from the hard and painful task of winning the bride of his love by his just desire for vindication from all the tale-tellers, deceivers, and slanderers; and for deliverance from his cruel, bloodthirsty, and wicked enemies. Satan mocked him and asked him to prove himself the anointed One of God by flinging himself from the Temple, but he refused to be budged by such an allurement (Mat. 4:5-7). He who is very Truth (John 14:6), and who hates every false way (Ps. 119:104, 128), endured such lies, deception, false witnessing, and venomous speech as have never before been heaped up against anyone in all of history, and yet he did not defend himself, nor even open his mouth (Isa. 53:7; I Pet. 2:22-24). Surely, he could have vindicated himself by coming down from the cross (Mat. 27:39-43)! Certainly, he could have called for twelve legions of angels to deliver him, and prove that he was in the right (Mat. 26:53-56)! But no enticement was strong enough to keep him from his great self-sacrifice of love.

    No passage of time could dull his affections

    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. We have already surveyed, in a previous chapter, the eternal and unwavering work that Christ accomplished out of love for his saints, from eternity past into eternity future, and so we will leave it at that; only consider again how, during all that time, and through all those compelling reasons to grow weary and disgusted, his love for the Church never once flagged or faltered. What amazing and unparalleled constancy!

    3. Jesus is faithful and unchanging in his affection for each one of his saints in particular

    But I would particularly encourage each one of you whom God in his grace leads to read this meditation with the reminder that it is not just the corporate people of God that Jesus loves so unwaveringly, and it is not just redemptive history that displays so faithful a compassion; but in the life of each saint in particular, the love of Christ is displayed with a matchless splendor and brilliance. Before you were born, Jesus knew you and called you and loved you. You were his before your parents had ever brought you forth, and he would let no obstacle prevent him from revealing that love to you in time, and reconciling you to himself, for he longed for you and would stop at nothing until he had you utterly and wholly for himself. We may all sing with the psalmist, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16, ESV). It was your name in particular that he bore upon his breast (cf. Ex. 28:29), it was your name that he engraved upon the palms of his hands (Isa. 49:15-16), it is your name, your own and no one else's in your place, that he wrote in his own blood within the book of the life of the Lamb, before the world began (Rev. 17:8).

    He was faithful and unfailing in his pursuit of us

    We have certainly seen the unchanging constancy of the love of Christ 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 discover 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 threatenings of his 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. Which of us, who have ever come to the Savior, cannot say with David that it is only because the goodness and mercy of the Lord followed us fiercely and persistently? Which of us may not with absolute certainty assure himself that this same goodness and mercy will surely continue to follow him all the days of his life (Psalm 23:6)? If we know but an infinitesimal fraction of the love of Christ, we could sooner believe that east could be west or that black could be white, than we could believe that his goodness could ever stop pursuing us, until he has brought us home to dwell in his house all the days of our new, eternal lives, world without end.

    He remains faithful through all our failures

    But even after Jesus 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, 8; 2 Tim. 2:13). How constant and unchanging a love is this! There is no other love like the love of Jesus.

    Posted by Nathan on February 15, 2010 12:22 PM

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