Chapter Nine: The Greatness of the Love of Christ is Displayed in the Purity of His Motivation
Among men, those who are beloved 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 for us, or the honorable, because we may obtain some greater dignity in the eyes of others by our association and friendship with them. 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 other 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 dwelling place 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.
1. Christ had no need of anything, being utterly happy and self-sufficient
One of the first and most fundamental truths about God, as he has chosen in his wisdom to reveal himself to men, is his utter independence, self-sufficiency, and lack of any need or unfulfilled desire. When he revealed himself to Moses, the Name he chose to be called by was I AM (Ex. 3:14); he is who he is, that is, he is self-determining, self-existent, and entirely unshaped by any outside stimuli or phenomena. We all, as creatures, grow and change and develop as we respond to things external to ourselves; but God never changes, for there is nothing outside of himself that can contribute anything new to his character, knowledge, or wisdom. All things depend upon him for their very existence, and he himself depends upon absolutely no one or nothing but himself alone.
This same Moses, when speaking later of the eternally self-sufficient God, proclaimed to him, â€œBefore the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are Godâ€ (Psalm 90:2, ESV). In saying this, he was teaching that God had no lack in himself, because of which he was driven as by necessity to create something that he had need of; for before he ever created anything he was the selfsame God in eternity past as he will be in eternity future, even unto everlasting. Now, the whole purpose of creation was the redemption of his chosen people: before the world was formed he knew them all by name (Rev. 17:8), before the foundations of the earth were laid the Lamb was slain in the divine mind and purpose (Rev. 13:8), and all the forces of history God determined from the beginning to work together for the end of the salvation of his people (e.g. Isa. 41:1-4, 25-27; 44:24-45:5; 45:11-13; 46:8-11; 48:1-17). But if he was the same God before any of this creation had sprung into being by his divine Word, if he was even then the same as he will remain into eternity future, when forevermore he dwells with his redeemed people, then this means that his redemption of them was unconstrained by any need that he had of something further, something that he was lacking, something that would in some way make him a different God at the conclusion of it all than he had been before it had begun. This means, then, that there was no motive of need, necessity, or desire for anything he had hitherto lacked, which compelled him to save his people. And if he had no motive of need in himself, the only, pure motivation, the single and unalloyed source from which must flow every redemptive blessing, is simply love, pure, unselfish beneficence, free and unmerited favor, sovereign and unconstrained grace. What love, then, is the love of redemption! What a love utterly unlike anything to be found on earth! Purer than the gold refined seven times, purer than the whitest snow that falls from heaven to earth.
This purest of loves, as all divine love, is perfectly displayed in the redemptive work of Christ: for Christ himself, as a Person of the most happy and blessed trinity (cf. 1 Tim. 1:11), was rich in eternity past with unspeakable wealth (2 Cor. 8:9); he rejoiced in the love of the Father, and was eternally glorified in the joint adoration of the Father and the Spirit, whom he in turn glorified with his own love and esteem (e.g. John 13:31-32; 17:1, 4-5, 24). So when he came down to earth for our salvation, he was not doing so out of any need of further love or glory or esteem. Now, it is certainly true that, when he was about to offer himself up for the salvation of us all, he prayed that the Father would therefore glorify him; but consider well, lest you err in supposing this means that Jesus came down to earth to win glory because he had lacked it above: for he is specific in his prayer, and requests that the Father would glorify him with the same glory that he already shared with him before the world existed (John 17:5). So then, even though Christ came to win a great and eternal glory, and even though it was the joy of this glory he would win that sustained him through the trials of the cross (cf. Heb. 12:2), yet still it was not out of any need in himself that he came down for our salvation â€“ for that very glory which he set out to win was a glory that he already had with the Father before the world existed.
How is it then that Jesus won a glory in his life, death, and resurrection? For he did indeed win a great glory, and he was given a glorious Name that he had never been given before, even the Name of Jesus, the eternal LORD who saves his people from their sins (Phil. 2:9-12); for he was not from all eternity the unique God-Man, and the only Mediator and Redeemer, but he became so in human time. The answer is this, that all of the glory which he won in his great redemptive accomplishment was only the glory that had already inhered in the godhead before the world's foundations had been laid, but which had not yet been shed forth or revealed or demonstrated in accordance with God's initial purpose of creating the world, that is, in accordance with that purpose of demonstrating and shedding forth the essential glory that had always been his.
Yes, it is true that no Person of the Godhead had ever possessed the glory of being a perfect man before Jesus took on flesh for our sakes; but the very glory of manhood is only this, that man was created to display the divine image. Jesus' perfect manhood was glorious because it fulfilled God's design for mankind of shedding forth the divine glory that had always been known and admired by the three Persons of the godhead, but had never been fully seen or adored by any other person in creation. The glory that Jesus won was the glory of revealing the already infinitely glorious God to men and angels, yes and demons and reprobates too, in so full a fashion as had never been done before.
Even the angels, that veil their faces and fly around the high throne of God (Isa. 6:1-3), do not understand the fullness of his glory; but when Jesus became a man for our redemption, then it was that the essential glory of the godhead was fully revealed, so that the very angels who fly in God's presence began to desire above all else to peer into the mystery of salvation, in order that they might see this glory more fully than they had known even in the blinding radiance of his presence (1 Pet. 1:12; Heb. 1:1-4; John 1:14, 18). And the devils too, whereas they were more impudent in their accusations before, as may be seen in the case of Job, yet when the glory of redemption had been accomplished, then they knew God more fully, and were thenceforth able only to tremble at the thought of him, and fell like lightning from the heaven of God's presence (James 2:19; Luke 10:18). And so too will it be with the reprobate, when they understand the glory revealed on the cross, which they had spurned; for all eternity, their despising and refusing that glory will be the greatest source of their misery and punishment.
So then, although Jesus did, in a sense, win a glory that was not his before, after he had suffered for our salvation, yet that very glory as the God-Man and Redeemer was just a newly revealed and applied glory that had already been fully possessed and known in all its essential characteristics by himself and the Father and the Spirit, it was already a glory in which he delighted beforehand, and for which he was infinitely esteemed and praised by the most blessed Persons of the Trinity; and therefore, it was a glory that added nothing to him which he did not already have. On the contrary, it added everything to us that we did not have, and nothing at all to him. This means that his great work of redemption, even though he did it for his glory, was not done out of any need that he had, but with our own interests in mind. It was not for his own good, but out of pure, unalloyed love alone that he bled and died and was raised again. How pure a love is this!
2. We had nothing at all of value to give, but were utterly destitute
This point may be more fully established by considering how incapable we were of contributing anything to Jesus, even if he did have any need in himself, which of course he did not. First of all, we were mere creatures, deriving everything from him and capable of giving nothing to him, when he came down to save us. He is not worshiped by us as though he needed anything, seeing that he gives life and breath to all things (Acts 17:24-28), yes, and all creation remains in existence by his own sustaining and guiding power (Col. 1:17). If he were hungry, he would not tell us, for he created and owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:9-13), and all the sacrifices we could offer are as a drop from a bucket (Isa. 40:15-17), and he takes no delight in them (Amos 5:21-22). So then, what could we ever give the Son that he needs or does not already have?
Someone may say, we can give nothing of material good to him, but we can give him our love and praise, and this is what he desires from us. Yes, in one sense that is correct, that the Son desires worshipers and lovers of himself and the Father (cf. John 4:23), lovers of God who will also love sincerely those little sheep whom he himself loves; but this is not a desire he has that is born of his own need, but rather a desire that comes from his pure love and compassion in seeing us in our need. It is not as though he did not have enough love, praise and glory, and so he created and redeemed a Church that he might get more. Consider how foolish that would be: Christ already had infinite love from the eternal, almighty, glorious, majestic, and worthy Father. It was the Father that testified before the whole world, â€œThis is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleasedâ€ (Mat. 3:17). So then, if someone so great and high and majestic loved him and praised him so fully, what could we little worms add to that? Would the Son not be satisfied with the strength and quality of the praise coming from the Almighty, that he would feel a lack to be supplied by us in our trembling weakness? Is the very love of God not great enough, that our own little love would be better and more acceptable to him? I speak as a fool; but there are those who believe that Christ came down to save us since he needed to be loved and worshiped, because he was lonely and unsatisfied and wanted company and admiration from his creatures; and if I speak so foolishly, it may be that they will thus see the folly of their man-centered way of thinking, and repent, and give glory to God.
Christ did not need our praise and admiration, he had no lack in himself that worship might fill up the void in his soul; and so, they who suppose their worship is given to God as though he needed anything are utterly confounded. But consider how much more foolish it is yet to think that we are contributing to God our own works of righteousness, or our goods or money or any other such thing. Will we reject the righteousness of God, that is imputed to us by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (see Phil. 3:1-11), and offer up instead our own stumbling and impure works? Christ's works before the Father were infinitely good and satisfying to him, because they were utterly pure in their motivation of supreme love to the Father and love of his neighbor as himself. Christ loved his neighbors as himself, and so took their place and laid down his life for them; and he loved the Father supremely, and did it all for his glory and honor; and so his works, because of his unalloyed love, are perfect and acceptable. But consider how evilly we blaspheme Christ when we reject his works in our behalf and cling instead to our own. This wickedness comes from failing to see the purity of the love of Christ, and thinking that his work of redemption was done because he needed something from us, and that it was therefore not purest love alone that motivated him.
How then is it that some will try to satisfy God by their own works, and some (more unthinkable yet!) will think that they may buy his favor with money? This spirit of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-23) is still alive today. There are still many who pay their filthy money to the devil-hordes swarming in the monastic orders of Rome, and in exchange receive a certificate assuring them that they or their departed loved ones will receive a share in the merits of all the monks' supererogatory works, blasphemous masses, fruitless and babbling prayers, and so on. This great wickedness is alive today even as it was in Martin Luther's day, and it is a blasphemy and reproach upon the Name of the Savior. It takes his pure, unconstrained love and turns it into a mercenary profit-mongering, it makes our Blessed Savior a bargain-driver who did what he did because he needed filthy lucre from us, and not rather out of pure and infinite love. Flee from such lies, dear Christians! They are not worthy of the name of our Christ!
But we must take care to guard our own hearts from this evil, for it is insidious and slippery, and worms its way in through any means possible. Do we ever fear to come to Christ in soulful repentance and brokenhearted sorrow over any sin or misdeed, because we think that we must help atone for our failure by a certain prescribed time of sorrow, or some inward or outward work of penance that we have inflicted upon ourselves, to the end that, having thus purified ourselves in part, we may come to Christ for the remainder of purification that we need? It is not as though we ought not to be sorry for our sins, nor is it unwise to place upon ourselves certain disciplines and safeguards intended to guard our steps from following after any evil; but when we think that we must atone for our own sins in part, and only then may we come to the throne of grace to find mercy, we have blasphemed the sufficiency of the work of Christ, and we have cast aspersions upon the purity of his love; for we are insinuating with our evil attitudes that his work of redemption only comes to those who give some token of payment for it; and therefore, if he accepts payment, he was doing his redemptive work only partly out of love, but partly out of the mercenary desire to gain something from us in return.
What could we ever give our Savior that would be acceptable to him as an exchange for his great work of love? Are we richer than he who made the heavens, that we should satisfy him with our wretched gold and silver, which he himself fashioned and hid in the bosom of the earth for our use? There are many today who are naked and wretched and poor and blind and miserable, but they think, â€œI am well-clothed and rich, I have no need of anything elseâ€. Poor fools, if they could only see the riches of the Savior, and come to him with no price in their hands, and receive freely of his eye-salve, that they might be clothed and enlightened and enriched indeed by him who gives and does not take in return (Rev. 3:14-22)!
There is no price that we could ever bring that would be sufficient to purchase the slightest modicum of grace. But still, in the remaining wicked and prideful vestiges of the sinful flesh, we think we can do something acceptable and meritorious to God. This foolish error comes from not recognizing the purity of the redemptive love of Christ, and thinking that he did what he did with some other partial motive, so that he might gain something from us in return. But there is no other thought more quick and powerful to kill vital religion than that.
3. The very essence of true religion is bringing nothing to Christ and receiving everything from him
In the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, our Savior lifts up his voice and cries aloud, â€œCome, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for Davidâ€ (Isa. 55:1-3, ESV). This is the purest of all gospel calls, and it casts the whole work upon the unalloyed favor of Christ, and positively spurns any thought of repayment.
So also, Solomon, the wisest of men until the very Wisdom of God was made incarnate, speaks thus of Christ: â€œWisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, 'Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!' To him who lacks sense she says, 'Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight'â€ (Prov 9:1-6, ESV). Jesus has already built a house for us in his love, he has already prepared us a place in his Father's mansion (John 14:2), he has already provided the sacrificial meal of his own flesh and poured out for us the wine of his precious blood; and what does he demand of us now but to come with an empty hand and receive freely of his favor? His love has done all; now, without money or price we may come and partake. If we but thirst we may come and drink freely of the water of life that he has provided with no other motive in mind than his pure and infinite love (see John 7:37-39; Rev. 22:17).
If we think that we are too poor and lowly to come to Christ, then we have not yet considered the depths of his love. Christ never yet turned away anyone who was too poor, too humble, too stained by sin, too needy; but he turns away every day those who are too high in their own thoughts, or too righteous or good or rich. On Judgment Day, he will surprise many when he says to them, â€œI never knew youâ€ (Mat. 7:21-23); but the many will all have this in common, that they thought they were doing service to Christ as though he needed something, when they cast out demons and performed miracles, and many other such things. In this way, they despised the purity of his love, and made him into a mercenary. But the humblest and most fearful of sinners, who barely dares to touch the hem of his garment with a finger (see Mat. 9:20-22), and thinks all the while, I am so unworthy of such a love, but I have nothing else to offer or to hope in, I have no payment, I must try and prove the sufficiency of undeserved love and grace â€“ all such without exception will prove beyond the cavil of the subtlest theologian of glory in all the world that Jesus' love is infinitely pure, and that he turns away no one who has not a plea to stand upon other than undeserved favor. Oh, that you would see so vast a need in yourself, assure yourself of the purity of the great love of Christ, and apply to him for eternal salvation in consideration of nothing at all but divine love!
4. Even as Christ's love for us alone motivated him to save us, so our love for him alone should motivate us to serve him
As it was in the days of the Apostle Paul, so today as well the wicked impostors who despise our doctrine of free and full pardon for any sinner, in exchange for nothing good of his own but on the basis of the redeeming love of Christ alone, often protest by deceptively saying that we proclaim, â€œLet us continue in sin, that grace may abound!â€ (Rom. 3:8; 6:1-2). This is a lie, and a distortion of our doctrine that is no better than their own teaching of the salvation of Christ as being given partly on the basis of his love and partly on the basis of our own works and goods that we contribute. The love of Christ, which came down to us with an utterly pure motivation, is great enough to pardon freely, and it is also great enough to give us a new life in holiness; it has caused us both to die to sin and also to live to righteousness; it is, as we have seen in a previous chapter, great enough to give us free justification on the basis of the imputation of Christ's righteousness as well as free sanctification on the basis of the impartation of his practical cleansing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The basic flaw with this protest against our doctrine, is that it fails to see that pure love tends to grow and reproduce itself as pure love. Those who have been freely forgiven rejoice in their own turn freely to forgive (Luke 11:4; Mat. 10:8). Those who think that they have been forgiven partly on the basis of their works of penance, serve God out of fear, hoping to earn something from him by contributing something to him. This is a blasphemy, for our God is not served by men's hands, as though he needed anything. But those who acknowledge that they have been forgiven on the basis of Christ's redemptive work of love alone, are thereby freed to work joyfully out of their own responsive and reflective love. And as the heart of the Law is to love God supremely and to love one's neighbor as oneself (Mat. 22:37-40), it is evident that the latter alone are good works which God truly delights in. The former works of fear and hopes of merit are works that he loathes, they are a stench in his nostrils.
In this respect, Simon the Pharisee was wrong and the sinful woman who washed the precious feet of Our Savior with her tears of overflowing love and thankfulness was right (Luke 7:36-50). Contrary to outward appearances, and in shocking contrast to Simon's own perception, she was a saint and he was a sinner, because she rested in the love of Christ alone, and recognized that she could contribute nothing to him in exchange. Because she had been freely forgiven much, therefore, she loved much; and because she loved much, therefore, she worked much and with the only right motivation of love and thankfulness to God; and because she worked with the right motivation, her works were praiseworthy and acceptable. But they who have failed to see the purity of Christ's love can never produce acceptable works.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us meditate upon and rest our souls in the purity of the great love of Christ; and the more we think on how freely we have been loved, let us love all the more in return. If we have been loved, then how can our good works spring from any other source than pure love, arisen in our hearts as the overflow of the infinite love we have been given? If we have received pardon from our debt of ten thousand talents, how can we begrudge anyone a few piddling denarii (Mat. 18:23-35)? Let us go out and give up our souls and lives for the good of Christ's little sheep; but we will only be able to do this if we know and remember the purity of the love of Christ, which was the sole motivation compelling him to pour out his soul as an offering for our sins.