DIVINE LOVE: A Series of Doctrinal, Practical and Experimental Discourses
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
And is it so? Can this extraordinary announcement be received as actual truth? Dare we credit it, or lift up our guilty hearts to comprehend its terms? O it is so strange and thrilling, that it seems to stun us, and only on recovering from our amazement are we able at length to reflect on the blessed declaration. There is so much of God in it that we recognize His awful presence, and fear as we are entering 'into the cloud.'
'God loved the world.' If I use the expression, God created the world, or God preserves the world, or God governs the world, the language which I employ is, to my mind, the symbol of infinite wisdom, power, and benignity; but when I repeat this statement, 'God loved the world,' the simple clause reveals at once a depth and an amount of meaning at which the mind is almost startled into incredulity; and it feels as if it were temerity to lay hold on this divine charter of human salvation. And yet these precious words afford the solution of many a living mystery. Why, for example, may the saint exclaim, have I been brought into the conscious possession of peace and joy, and the dark shadows that lay on my mind have all fled away; or why does the throne of the universe now stand out as a throne of grace to which there is for me daily access, continual welcome, and rich response; or why are there in heaven the spirits of my human kindred, whose bodies are lying yet in the darksome pollution and thralldom of the grave--are not such changes, privileges, and blessings to be traced upward and backward to the grand and ultimate fact, that God has loved the world?
Now, the introductory 'for' shows that this verse presents itself as the reason of a previous statement. The reference in it is to a remarkable incident in the history of ancient Israel. They had, in one of their periodical fits of national insanity, so provoked their divine Guardian and Provider, that He sent among them 'fiery flying serpents,' and many of them were bitten, and died. But to modify and counteract the chastisement, and make its terror a means of salutary impression, Moses was commanded to frame a brazen representation of one of the poisonous reptiles, and place it on the summit of a flag-staff, so that any wounded Hebrew might be able to see it from the extremity of the camp. And every one, no matter how sorely he felt the poison in his fevered veins, if he could only turn his languid vision to the sacred emblem, was instantly healed. It is then asserted that salvation is a process of equal simplicity, facility, and certainty--'so also must the Son of man be lifted up,' that every 'one believing in Him may not perish, but have everlasting life.' But why are belief and salvation so connected, and how comes it that any one, every one, confiding in the Son of man, is rescued and blessed--saved from the death which he has merited, and elevated to a life which he had forfeited? This pledge of safety and glory to the believer has its origin in nothing else but the truth under our consideration. Belief and life are in this wondrous and inseparable union: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'
The scheme of salvation is here presented to us in its Origin, its Means, and its Design. Or we may contemplate the love of God, first, in its object--the world; secondly, in the provision He has made for its deliverance--the gift of his Son; and, thirdly, in the instrumentality by which this provided salvation is brought into individual possession--the exercise of faith.