The revelation of all revelations is, “God is Love.” The religions of the world have no such revelation, therefore their light is darkness in the light of Christianity. “God is Beauty,” says the Greek. “God is Strength,” states the Roman. “God is a Despot,” asserts the Barbarian. “God is Law,” avows the Jew. “God is Everything,” proclaims the Pantheist. “God is Force,” says the Scientist. But “God is Love,” reveals the Spirit.
As we listen to men, how confused we become. John Morley declared, “Christianity is the struggle after an ideal.” Christ revealed the Father as running to meet the prodigal while he was yet a great way off (Luke 15). The prodigal’s conception of the Father’s love was to be made a “hired servant.” The Father treated him as a son.
We ask, “Is the Gospel a revelation or a discovery?” When the apostle was at Athens, he found the Athenians had erected an altar to “The unknown God”; but he was able to declare, “He whom ye ignorantly worship I declare unto you.” Nothing can be plainer than the message the apostles preached. It was a message which declared something new — something done outside of man, — so we say with Oliver Cromwell, “Shall we seek for the roots of our comforts within us ? What God hath done, what He is to us in Christ, is the root of our comfort: in this is stability: in us is weakness. I think I am the poorest wretch that lives, but I love God, or rather I am beloved of God.” That God loved and gave is the revelation which Christ makes known.
One has said, “Religion has changed, like everything else. The creed in our day was simple and severe. To us right or wrong meant heaven or hell, neither more nor less. Now what is Christianity ? Who can show us?” That is all the world can say, and many pulpits re-echo! It gives us a question mark! Unless we look to Divine revelation, as found in Christ and the Word, we are floundering in the bog of speculation. Man has no adequate reply to man’s need, and Nature is no better, for Nature, “red in tooth and claw,” only intensifies the question. Christ alone answers the question, “What is Christianity?” It is focused in Himself. How sublime, soul-stirring, and sufficient is His embodying revelation: “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.” These wonderful words of life and beauty, as one has said, naturally divide themselves into four parts: —
- The Lake, The Love of God.
- The River, The Son of God.
- The Pitcher, The Faith in Him.
- The Draught, Everlasting Life.
I. The Lake
Looking out over the beautiful Lake Erie, at Erieside, in Ohio, U.S.A., one lovely summer’s day in July, and musing on its gentle, heaving bosom, as the sun was kissing it in its life-giving warmth, I recalled the words of Bernard, who, gazing with absorbed intent on Lake Geneva, in Switzerland asked the question, “Has anyone seen the Lake?” “We have no answer,” says one. “No man has seen the Lake at any time, and yet we know all God’s awful attributes,
Are ministers of love,
And feed its Sacred Flame.”
So says not the Spirit of God, for He reveals the Divine Logos, the Word, in John’s unfolding Gospel, for although the word “Gospel” does not occur in John’s Gospel, that Gospel is full of Gospel, for it reveals to us Christ in its genesis in “the Bosom of the Father,” and in its revelation unfolds to us a saved sinner in the bosom of the Son.
How utterly wanting are all the definitions of God! The Apostles’ Creed leads us to “God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth,” and the Shorter Catechism speaks of Him in His being as “being holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,” and “Infinite, eternal and unchangeable.” But not a word about Love. Sir Robertson Nicoll has rebukingly written in speaking of this grave omission in the Creeds of Christendom, “‘God is Love.’ These words do not occur, as far as I remember, in any of the confessions of the Reformed Church.”
God is Love, not Love He was, nor He will be,
But He is, and always was, and always will be.
Here is fact, pulsating, warm,
Trust Him and see.
“God is Love: God is Love!” so exclaimed, in his dying moments, the late Professor Emslie. “I will go and tell the world. They do not know it.” Oh, if men would only recognize the fact, how they would realize its benediction! This is the panacea to heal the feuds of men. This is the power to inspire the devotion of saints. This is the soul to move the sinner from the haunts and habit of sin. This is the salt to preserve society from the putrefaction of lust. This is the soil to nourish the character with the fruit of the Spirit. This is the substance of Christianity as found in Christ; and this is the essence of God’s being and eternal life: for, as Westcott has finely said, “Eternal life is that which has to do with the Being of God,” and God, in the essence of His being, “is Love.”
This Lake is deeper than man’s sin.
The prodigal had a glimmering of this when he said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare?” At least if he did not get the “enough,” he got what was found in the “to spare.” What a poor conception he had of the Father’s bounty! When God gives He does not give us a crust. He gives us the Bread of Life — the Christ.
What wonderful contrasts Christ reveals of the Lake of God’s love in the parable of the prodigal son!
- The prodigal in his self-will demanded the “portion of goods that falleth” to him. The Father in Love’s giving “divided” unto him “His living,” literally “His life.”
- The prodigal in his self-action “gathered all together.” The Father in His Love was waiting on the look-out for the wanderer’s return.
- The prodigal in his self-destination went into the “far country.” The Father in His Love’s sight saw the ungrateful one while he was yet “a great way off.”
- The prodigal in his self-waste “wasted his substance in riotous living.” The Father in His Love’s heart had “compassion” on him.
- The prodigal in his self-folly “spent all” he possessed. The Father’s Love’s desire moved Him to run to welcome the wanderer. “He ran.” The only time we read of God being in a hurry.
- The prodigal in his self-destitution began “to be in want.” The Father in His Love’s embrace fell on his neck and took him to His heart.
- The prodigal in his self-association “joined himself to a citizen of that country.” The Father in His Love’s kiss lavished upon the swine-feeder the many kisses of His affection.
- The prodigal in his self-servitude was sent into the field to feed the swine. The Father in His Love’s garment put the “best robe” on him.
- The prodigal in his self-longing would “fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat.” The Father in His Love’s bestowment put a ring on his hand.
- The prodigal in his self-collapse exclaimed, “I perish.” The Father in His Love’s protection ordered shoes to be placed on his feet.
- The prodigal in his self-misery found no one to help him, for “no man gave unto him.” The Father in His Love’s provision killed the fatted calf and feasted him.
- The prodigal in his self-condemnation confessed he was unworthy, and was content with the place of a hired servant. The Father in His Love’s satisfaction exclaimed, “This is My son.”
- The prodigal in his self-confession confessed, “I have sinned.” The Father in His Love’s defence, against the elder brother’s criticism of His action for the prodigal, answers every charge.
Such love and such action makes us sing with Faber —
That Thou shouldst be the God Thou art,
And love me as Thou dost,
Is darkness to my intellect,
But sunshine to my heart.
This Lake is higher than God’s throne
“Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” Righteousness and judgment are attributes of God, but Love is not an attribute, it is what God “is” in the essence of His being. We sing, “Love moved the mighty God.” No, God, in His mighty love, moved. “God is Love.” “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because He sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. Herein [or, In this] is Love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a Propitiation [a Satisfaction] for [concerning] our sins” (I John 4:9,10). This is how God in His love expressed Himself, but that expression proves what He “is.” David, long ago, in his love for Absalom, when he knew he was slain, exclaimed, “O my son Absalom: my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” God did die for us! God cannot die, but He Who died for us is God! For God, in the eternal value of His own Son died for us. The Cross of God’s love, the Lake of His grace, reveals to us the heart of the One Who sits on the throne, hence, He must be higher than the throne itself.
The Lake is broader than humanity’s need
One of the salient things in the life of Christ was He never met a need but He supplied its necessity. When He saw the hungry multitude He fed it. When He came against disease, He banished it. When He beheld impotence, He energised it. When He met death, He vivified it. When He saw a thirsty soul, He satisfied it. When He beheld the eyes of sorrow dripping with tears, He wiped them away. And when He was appealed to for mercy and help, He always responded.
His very attitude on the Cross, as His form is extended by the transfixing nails, is eloquent with loving appeal. Those extended arms invite all to come to His saving embrace. How true it is, the Cross reveals man at his worst, and God at His best. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” These words are not general in theirstatement, but particular in their application. At the Cross the mountains of man’s sin rose up to, and against, heaven; but, thank God, the blood of Christ’s atonement covered it all. There is no sin but what that sacrifice has answered for it.
This Lake is longer than eternity’s chime
A boy once said to the writer, as a Sunday School teacher, “When did God have a beginning?” Like a flash the answer came, “There must have been someone without a beginning to make a beginning.” A deaf mute replied to the question written on a blackboard, “What is eternity?” “The life time of God.” The being of God is like a circle, without beginning or end. His love is like Himself, eternal. Hence, Love’s givings are like Himself, eternal. The salvation He provides is eternal in its blessing. The life He gives is eternal in its holiness. The joy He bestows is eternal in its gladness. The redemption He affords is eternal in its issues. The relationship He effects is eternal in its outcome. The glory He brings is eternal in its satisfaction. And the love wherewith He loves is eternal in its affection.
O Lake of God, so wide and boundless,
O Love of God, so rich and free,
I bathe my life in its abounding
And I am satisfied in Thee.
II. The River
The Rockies feed the Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan, in the United States, and these in turn make Lake Erie the sea it is. As Lake Erie nears the Niagara Falls it is confined by the nearing shores of Canada and the United States. Then as it comes closer to the Falls it speeds on with terrible onrush in the rapids above, and then drops with ominous sound over the Falls. Then on again for two miles, with whirling waters, till it reaches the whirlpool, and graduates down the last lap of rapids to the placid Lake Ontario. As the writer on one occasion stood on Goat Island, watching the tumultuous waters ere they went over the Falls, so as we watch the river of Christ’s action, as He lived to die, we can see a correspondence between the waters of Erie’s Falls and Himself.
Love leaped over the falls of man’s sin
The legend of the “Maid of the Mist,” and the many stories of those who lost their lives in the overwhelming waters of the Falls, are full of tragic interest, and not least among them is the love that prompted the maiden to leap into the waters where her lover had perished. That was a foolish act. But when the Lord would lift us out of our sin, it was essential He should identify Himself with us in it. The Gospel reveals not only Christ acting as our Substitute, but of His becoming so one with us in our sin that He speaks of our sin as His own, and therefore in Him we have answered for it. In the 38th Psalm, which is a Messianic one, we hear Christ speaking of “My sin,” “Mine iniquities,” “My wounds,” “My sore,” “My sorrow,” “My sin,” “Mine enemies,” and “My salvation.” Such sentences could not apply to Him personally for He had no sin, and knew no sin, therefore they must be understood representatively.
Love was confined in the gorge of human limitation
The cliffs that confine the whirling waters, after they have leaped the Falls, down to the placid waters of Lake Ontario, may be taken to illustrate how Christ placed Himself under human limitations by being Man. He was born in a manger, was thirsty and asked for a drink, was dependent upon others for His need to be met, preached from a loaned boat, slept in a tired body, buried in a borrowed tomb, and the only place He had to lay His head was on the Cross. The word for “lay,” which occurs in the sentence “He had not where to lay His head,” is the same as rendered “bowed” in referring to the fact that on the Cross “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” How true it was. He emptied Himself of His glory that He might go to the gore of Calvary.
Love was whirled in the rapids and whirlpool of Calvary
The River Erie is illustrative again, for just as that river is whirled down the gorge, and swirled in the 400 feet of the whirlpool, so Christ in His sufferings on Calvary, exclaimed in prophecy, “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts, all Thy waves and Thy billows have gone over Me” (Psa. 42:7). Jonah in the sea monster quotes this psalm when he exclaimed, “The floods compassed me about: all Thy waves and billows passed over me” (Jonah 2:3). Christ affirms Jonah’s incarceration was a type of His death and resurrection, therefore, we are warranted in applying the words of the Psalmist to Him.
When Captain Webb risked his life, and lost it, in trying to swim through the rapids and the whirlpool, he took a chance of success or failure, but not so Christ. He deliberately and of His own choice laid down His life. His five-fold declaration in John 10 about His life was, “The Good Shepherd layeth down His life,” and “I lay it down of Myself, no man taketh it from Me.” “I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it again.” His death was no accident. His star of destiny was His death on Calvary. “Deep” called “unto deep” on Calvary. The “deep” of man’s sin, and Christ’s answer for it. The “deep” of God’s purpose, and the deep of Christ’s fulfilment of it. The “deep” of God’s justice, and the deep of His mercy. The “deep” of God’s righteous requirement, and the deep of Christ’s satisfaction in meeting it. The “deep” of God’s being of Light called to the deep of His love in mutual action.
“If I were God,” said a great German, “the sorrows of the world would break my heart.” One, in referring to this saying, said: “He did not know what he said: the sorrows of the world did break the heart of God.” Physically, the heart of Christ was not broken, but spiritually His spirit was anguished in death, His soul was poured out in love. His body was pierced with suffering. His brow was torn with thorns. His tongue was parched with the fire of hell. His hands were torn with the lacerating nails. His feet were transfixed with the spikes of perdition. His face was marred with the blast of sin’s punishment. His body was racked on the rack of anguish.
Love’s act leads to the placid Lake of peace
The whirlpool waters rush on in their rush to the town of Lewistown, but when those waters reach Niagara-on-the-Lake they are calm and placid as they merge into Lake Ontario. So the blood of Christ’s spurting flood leads to the peace which He has made by His Cross, and what a peace that is! It is calm as the throne of God, and bears on its bosom forgiveness of sins, eternal life, cleansing of the conscience, justification, holiness, purity, joy, and relationship with God as His children.
III. The Pitcher
God’s provisions must be received by our takings if we are to have their benefits. It is said that a ship on one occasion was in Lake Ontario, and those on board were almost to the extreme point of dying of thirst. A passing ship was hailed, and fresh water requested, when, to the astonishment of those on board, in clarion notes through a megaphone the answer came, “Dip it up! Dip it up! The water around you is fresh.” The remedy to their thirst was within their reach, but they did not know it. So men do not know the remedy for their thirst is within their reach in Him Who is the Water of Life. God’s message is, “The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart. That if thou shalt confess Jesus as Lord (R.V.) and believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:8,9). The full flood of God’s provision is flowing past us, and unless we put into it the pitcher of faith, we shall not get the benefit of His love’s giving.
The difference between salvation provided in the death of Christ, and the acceptance of the provision made, is very well illustrated in the following incident. In 1829 or 1830, George Wilson, in Pennsylvania, was sentenced to be hanged by a United States Court in Philadelphia for robbing themails and murder. Andrew Jackson, as President of the United States, pardoned him, but Wilson refused the pardon, and insisted that it was not a pardon unless he accepted it. That was a point in law never before raised in the U.S.A. The Attorney-General said the law was silent on the point. The President was urged to call upon the Supreme Court to decide the point at once, as the Sheriff must know whether to hang Wilson or not. Chief Justice John Marshall, one of the ablest lawyers, gave the following decision: “A pardon is a paper, the value of which depends upon its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that one under sentence of death would refuse to accept a pardon, but if it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged.” And he was hanged. Who was responsible for his death? No one but the man himself. The law said he must die. The President stepped in between him and the law, and the man refused the pardon.
Indirectly, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the truth of the atonement of Christ, in making provision for the salvation of the whole world, is only beneficial to those who receive Him as their own personal Saviour. The righteousness of God is unto all in its offer, but it is upon them that believe in its benefit (Rom. 3:22).
IV. The Draught
“Eternal life” is the draught ! What a draught that is! Who can estimate its contents and measure its wealth? Westcott says, “Eternal life is not an endless duration of being in time, but being of which time is not a measure. It isbeyond the limitations of time: it belongs to the being of God.” Farrar has said something similar, “By qualifying the Divine life by the epithet ‘eternal,’ John meant not anendless life but a spiritual life, the life which is in God, andwhich was manifest by Christ to us. By calling it eternal, hemeant to imply… its ethical quality… its internal quality.”
Keeping before us what Farrar says, that “Eternal life” is an “internal” and “ethical” quality, we may ask the question, ” What is physical life?” We read in the Epistle of James, “The body without the spirit is dead,” so that we may say, physical life is the union of the spirit with the body, by means of the soul. What is spiritual life? The union of the individual with God by means of the Lord Jesus. Christ Himself affirms this when He declares, “This is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent.” The knowledge is more than knowing about, it is being personally acquainted with. “By means” of our Lord Jesus, this union is effected and effective.
Some years ago, when living in the West of England, in my garden there was a scabby, sour apple tree. The apples were so sour that they were hardly fit for cooking. One day I asked a gardener friend if he would not graft some good apple-grafts on the old stock. Having cut down the branches, he proceeded to graft two or three good grafts, and among them was a Peasgood-nonsuch and a Blenheim Orange. Within the compass of two or three years that old sour stock was producing some of the finest and most luscious apples ever eaten. The introduction of the new life overcame the old life. The same thing is true in the implantation of the spiritual life when we who believe in Christ are made alive unto God. That Life in its working counteracts the sour stock of our sinful nature, and produces the love of the Spirit, for that Life in its manifestation is love. “We know we have passed from death unto life, because we love.” Where love is wanting, life is lacking.
What is love? It is fulfilling life’s mission with love’s mercies. It is meeting the need of others at the expense of our life. We cease to bless when we cease to bleed. The living hand of love is full of gifts in ministering to the need of others. The lavishing heart of love beats in unison with the Heart of Grace, which bestows its best upon those who are the worst. When a Godly clergyman in the East End of London died, it was found in his will he had left a sum of money which was to be given to the undeserving poor! The Church is so unlike Christ because she knows so little of Him. If Christians knew Him better, they would be better. If we took more from Him, we would be better. The late A. B. Simpson, in the hearing of the writer, on one occasion said, “The Lord is not finding fault with us because we are not better, but because we don’t take more.” I said to him after his address, “If we took more, we would be better.” He replied, “Exactly, that’s what I was driving at.” Let us take a deep, long, and constant draught of this eternal life, and then we shall become like it, for it is holy in its nature, powerful in its working, and satisfying in its contents.
The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/. Check out our Bookstore.