The magnitude of God’s love
What is unique about the Christian faith in respect of Divine Love?
The Christian faith presents a definite world-view in which the God of the universe is revealed as loving. In contrast the gods of world religions, as invented by depraved minds, are set forth as vengeful, hateful and in constant need of being appeased. Not so the true and living God whose love may be described as great (Ephesians 2:5; 1 John 3:1-2), marvelous, unique, supreme, gracious, supernatural, wonderful, holy, sacrificing, immutable (Jeremiah 31:3), sovereign, condescending, salvivic, eternal, mysterious, transcendent, redeeming, purifying, free, infinite (without measure: Romans 8:32), manifested, just, efficacious (potent), incomprehensible (Ephesians 3:18,19), peculiar, indescribable, and reaching to the individual.
Considering all this as gathered from Scripture, the one thing that is really unique about the Christian faith is that we experience God’s love when we do not deserve it at all. It is a gracious love. God is impelled to love, even his enemies, rebellious and fallen creatures, by His very nature. On account of this the Bible declares that “God is love.” It is an unmerited kind of love; nobody can earn it or work for it so that he may demand God to love him. Quite the contrary: while we were yet enemies, helpless and dead in sins, God reached down to us and embraced us by His love, through Jesus His Son.
Aspects of God’s love
God’s love is that characteristic inherent in the divine nature in virtue of which God is eternally moved to self-communication.
Even before the creation of time, space and matter, before angels and men or any other creature existed, God is love. How could He be loving since nobody else existed beside Him? Because God is Trinity: the Father loves the Son eternally. And that love is perfectly reciprocated in the Holy Spirit.
By God’s love we also mean His rational and voluntary affection, grounded in perfect reason and deliberate choice. Since God’s love is rational, it involves a subordination of the emotional element to a higher law than itself, namely, that of truth and holiness. For the sake of saving a world of sinner, God “spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all” (Romans 8:32), and “Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Love requires a rule or standard for its regulation. This rule or standard is the holiness of God.
To better appreciate the love of God, we may consider it under a threefold heading. There are three degrees or aspects of one and the same love.
1. The love of benevolence. This implies that God willed good to the creature from eternity. God therefore loved the elect before they were even born. It pleased Him to love these, all these and no other. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
It is spoken of many times in Scripture: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself....” (Ephesians 1:4,5). By this love God elects sinners unto salvation with all its blessings and entitlement to glory. It is the fountainhead of all blessings that accrue to the creature who in himself deserves nothing but eternal condemnation. This love is celebrated as the beginning of God’s dealing with man (Romans 8:29; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14; Romans 9:11-16).
In this sense Augustine could say: “God loved us even when He hated us,” for, being in unbelief, His wrath was upon us, while at the same time His favour and determination to save us was real as well.
2. The love of beneficence. This points to the fact that God does good in time according to His good will (eudokia). He loves us as we are. By this love God redeems and sanctifies us, acquiring us for Himself to be a people who belong to Him by covenant.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...” (John 3:16). His loves leads Him to be involved in action for the welfare of others. Again: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25,26; see also Revelation 1:5; 1 John 4:10; Jeremiah 31:3,4; Ephesians 2:1-5; Romans 5;8; Isaiah 54:7,8; Hebrews 12:6).
3. The love of complacency. By this is denoted how God delights Himself in the creature on account of the rays of His image seen in it. This aspect of divine love accentuates the fact that God loves us when we are renewed after the image of Christ. By this love God gratuitously rewards us as holy and just.
This love is brilliantly spoken of by our Lord: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him....If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:21,23; see also Isaiah 62:3; Hebrews 11:6; Psalm 91:4).
What really commends the love of God towards believers is the following:
1. The majesty and loftiness of the lover; God loves us. He needs not be bound to love us; indeed He can most justly hate and destroy us if He so willed.
2. The poverty and unworthiness of the loved. Men are loved, not only as empty and weak creatures, but as sinners and guilty, rebellious servants, who so far from deserving it, are on the other hand most worthy of hatred and punishment, being covenant-breakers in Adam.
3. The worth of Him in whom we are loved. He in whom they are beloved is Christ (Ephesians 1:5,6), the delight of His heavenly Father and the “express image” of His person (Hebrews 1:3). God could not love and save sinners except by delivering up His beloved Son. He could have given nothing more excellent, nothing dearer, even if He had given the whole universe.
4. The multitude and excellence of the gifts which flow out from that love to us. The effects of His love are both many in number and great in value. All the benefits by which salvation is begun in this life are perfected in the other. The crown and sum of all blessings is the gift of God Himself, as He testifies repeatedly: “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” He imparts Himself to us as an object of fruition both in grace and in glory.
Matchless adorable Love! A love that demands my all, logically and in every other respect (Romans 12:1ff.).
What or who are the objects of God’s Love and why?
While God is certainly good to the righteous and the wicked, the just and the unjust, the devout and the profane, and indeed to the beasts of the field and to all creatures, He love is peculiar and selective. He loves His elect angels, for instance, but in no way is said to love the wicked angels who rebelled against Him. Actually they are reserved unto judgement. No love is shown to them.
1. To better understand God’s love, we need to always keep in mind that God loves His Son as the original, unique, and eternal object of His affection. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). “For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth...” (John 5:20). “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (John 3:35; see also Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Luke 20:13).
Every other expression of divine love is the outgrowth and external expression of the sublime and eternal love within the Trinity.
2. God loves all those who are within the covenant of grace. These become known (as to who they are) because in time they are united to His Son by faith. Some time or other during their life they heed God’s calling by the Gospel and turn to Christ for forgiveness and eternal life. “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God” (John 16:27; cf. 14:21,23). God’s electing love is directed towards those in Christ, united to him by faith (John 17:23).
These same persons are elsewhere described as the world to emphasize the marvel of God’s love. In John 3:16 it is the intensity rather than the extensiveness of divine love that is highlighted. The Bible says that these same persons are sinners, ungodly, and dead in trespasses and sins. God loves His creatures in spite of their ungodliness: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly....But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8; cf. Ezekiel 33:11; Ephesians 2:4,5).
Why does God love such despicable and depraved rebels? No simpler and truer answer could be given than this: God loves them because He loves them. No higher cause of His love can be found except in Himself: God is love. What He decreed in eternity, He executes in history through creation and providence, manifesting His grace to those who, in themselves, deserve nothing but the sword of judgement and unquenchable fire. This is spoken of as “remembering His holy covenant.” God’s firm and unchangeable plan to save sinners is being carried out infallibly.
This is the reason Moses gave why God loved his ancient people: “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people, for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers....” (Deuteronomy 7:7,8). There is a reason why God loves me, but that reason does not arise from anything I am in myself or anything I do. His love stems from Himself. It is His nature to love and in the exercise of His love He is glorified, and the result will be Christ being the firstborn among many brethren.
How the love of God is manifested
1. The supreme exhibition of God’s love was made on Calvary: being willing to provide the infinite sacrifice needed for the salvation of the lost whom He loves. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9,10; cf. John 3:16). Christ’s substitutionary death for His seed is the pinnacle and irrefutable proof of God’s love: He spared Him not but delivered Him up for us all.
2. Arguing from the greater to the lesser, if God actually delivered His beloved Son for our salvation, then it is logical that with Him He will freely give us all things. And this is what the Bible affirms (Romans 8:32). If Christ is His unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15), then other gifts are in attendance. So when believers receive pardon, when God bestows upon them full and complete pardon upon the repentant, this is a proof of His love.
But let it be remembered that God forgives and grants eternal life because of the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son.
In the same way He ministers unto those He loves, and protects them from evil. “For the Lord’s portion is his people...As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead them...” (Deuteronomy 32:9-12; cf. 33:3,12; Isaiah 48:14-21).
He proves His love for us in that what He begins in believers He continues and perfects. He remembers them in all their experiences: “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the Angel of his presence saved them: in his love and his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:9; cf. 49:15,16).
A concrete proof of His love is His chastening and scourging His children, for their profit, that they might become partakers of His holiness. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth...” (see Hebrews 12:6-11).
It must be underlined, then, that material riches and good health and intelligence and relative freedom from trouble are not necessarily a proof of God’s love. The wicked often enjoy these blessings, but because of their perverseness and unbelief these same blessing will prove their ruin (Psalm 73).
On the other hand, God’s loved people often suffer injustice, persecution, sickness, troubles of every kind. These external circumstances do not disprove God’s love towards them; on the contrary, in all these things they are shown forth to be more than conquerors through Him who loves them. God’s love aims for eternal blessedness, for which He prepares us according to His wisdom and goodness.