God's Love And Its Gift
( Originally Published 1895 )
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only be-gotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."—John iii. 16.
I AM conscious at the beginning that I have assumed au impossible task; but it is a task so precious and so glorious that I would rather fail, honestly trying to accomplish it, than to succeed in any other. My task is to try to tell you about the love of God. I desire to lay the emphasis upon that little word with only two letters, " So." " God so loved the world who is able to tell how much that means? Mr. Spurgeon once exclaimed: "Come, ye surveyors, bring your chains, and try to make a survey of this word ` so.' Nay, that is not enough. Come hither, ye that make our national surveys, and lay down charts for all nations. Come ye, who map the sea and land, and make a chart of this word `so.' Nay, I must go further. Come hither, ye astronomers, that with your optic glasses spy out spaces before which imagination staggers, come hither and calculate imaginations worthy of all your powers.
When you have measured between the horns of space, here is a task that will defy you—`God so loved the world.' If you enter into that, you will know that all this love is to you—that while Jehovah loves the world, yet he loves you as much as if there were nobody else in all the world to love." " God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son."
The story is told of a child in Luther's time who had been taught to think of God only with dread, as of a terrible judge. In her stern home the name of God had been mentioned only to terrify and frighten her. But one day in her father's printing office, she picked up a scrap of paper, and found on it the first words of this verse, " God so loved the world that he gave"--- The remaining words were torn off ; but even in this mere fragment there was a revelation to her. It told her that God loved the world, loved it well enough to give something. What he gave she did not know, but it was a great deal for him to give anything to it. The new thought brought great joy to her heart. It changed all her conceptions of God. She learned to think of him as one who loved her, as her friend, ready to give her rich gifts and all good, and this thought brightened and transformed her life.
What a marvelous thing love is! What miracles it can work ! Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst relates an incident which came under his observation, concerning a little fellow who at the age of eight was regarded by the rest of the boys as being only about a quarter-witted. It was the result of some infantile disease. His father, whose name is known almost everywhere throughout the land as one of the foremost among educators, took personal charge of his little boy's education. The other boys despised the boy and pitied his father. If the little fellow had been sent to an ordinary school he would probably have brought up at an insane asylum before he was grown. As it was, he ended by going to Oxford, and carrying off a prize. That great-minded, great-hearted man, his father, got clear over on to the inside of the poor, dwarfed possibility of a boy, and by so loving him that he gave himself, saved him. t was his great genius as a teacher that by the aid of his ' love he could at one and the same time be a great, wise, gifted man, and a puny, feeble-minded child. No genius could have ever done it alone, it was his love that made it possible. No one is large enough to put himself in the place of another, and give himself for him, unless he loves him. " God so loved the world," because he was the world's father, because we who are of the world are his children, and with all a father's sympathy and tenderness he put himself in our place, and came down and took upon himself our flesh, and got underneath us, that he might lift us up.
The source of all our love to God is the knowledge that he loves us. John says, " We love him, because he first loved us." The knowledge that God's love pursues us in our wickedness and sin, will not give us up even when we are unlovable, cannot help but appeal to our hearts. But when we begin to measure his love by the tender, suffering life of Jesus Christ, and by his dying love upon the cross, we are overwhelmed with a sense of the depths of the love of God for us. What more wonderful declaration could there be than this, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son "? As the eloquent Dr. Mc-Clintock once said, What is the cross, but the highest, most complete manifestation of the love of God? And when the despairing eye of a poor sinner once catches a glimpse of the cross of Christ with this light of love upon it, the hardened soul no longer looks on God as the infinite Avenger, but as the compassionate Father! He sees that God loves him—him, wretched, miserable, undone —him, sunken, it may be, to the very depths of despair—him, an object almost of hatred to himself and from whom, perhaps, his friends turn away with contempt. And when this is once realized, the chord is touched, the only chord in his heart that could be touched—the hard rock is cleft and the living waters gush forth. " He loves me ! then I love him."
"'Tis love ! 'tis love ! Thou diedst for me! I hear thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee; Pure, universal love thou art :
To me, to all, thy mercies move ;
Thy nature and thy name is Love !"
And,-brothers and sisters, if we are to share the work of the Lord in winning men to righteousness, we must share this great love for them. We too must learn how to put ourselves in our brother's place. We must love people, not in the multitude and in the mass merely; but as the great king of day, who shines for all the earth, sends definite heat and light down to each tiny flower, and loves it into vigor, and blossom, and fragrance, so we must seek after men and women with definite earnestness, thinking about them,. praying about them, searching out their needs, loving them personally as God does, inscribing their names on our hearts, and thus win them by the strength of our love.
Mr. H. B. Gibbud tells an interesting story about his work among prisoners : He was going one day from cell to cell, when one man called him back and asked him if he remembered him. He did not.
" Well," said he, " I remember you, and you got me out of one of the `dives' in Mulberry. Bend, in New York city, took me to the Florence Mission, and gave me a note to the `Home for Intemperate Men.' Do you remember?"
He could not, having done similar acts for a great number.
You will remember me, I think," said the prisoner, "when I tell you the circumstances. I was nearly naked; you got some clothes for me. I was shivering with delirium tremens, and could not dress myself, so you dressed me; now you remember?"
Mr. Gibbud was still unable to recollect him.
"Well, there is one thing more, and that was what broke me up. After you had dressed me, you said, `You want to look nice, so I'll black your boots,' and you did. Now, I could not tell to save my neck what you said about Christ; I did not want to be better; I did not go to the `Home,' all I wanted was what I could get out of you; but your blacking my boots—I have never been able to get away from that. I did not want your religion, but to think that you cared enough about my soul to black my boots—that has followed me ever since, and when I have been drunk and stupid, that thing would haunt me. I did not want your religion then, but I do now. And I think God has brought me here to meet you again, and I want you to pray for me."
And so right there, behind "gates of brass, and bars of iron," he led this poor sinful soul to the Lord Jesus Christ, "who taketh away the sin of the world," and there and then began a new life. It was "a brand plucked from the burning," but one for whom the Savior died, and for whom all heights of noble character were possible. Now I presume that, to the most of us, it seems an exaggerated thing for a man to do, to polish a poor drunken tramp's boots, as a scheme to try to win him to Christ, to save his soul; and perhaps you shudder within yourself and say, " I could not do that, surely I am not asked to do such a thing as that," and yet, my brother, let us turn it over and look at it from another standpoint a little while. If Jesus Christ were to come back to earth again, prosecuting his mission to save the lost, and were to come into this church to-day, footsore and weary, and with soiled shoes, and I knew it was the Christ, he who died upon the cross for my poor soul, don't you think my cheeks would flush with pride at the opportunity to get down out of this pulpit, off this platform, and polish his shoes? Is there one of you good women who would not be glad to do it, even on your knees in the aisle of this church?, And yet the Savior says that what we do unto one of the least of these, his brethren, he regards as though it were done unto himself.
Mr. Gibbud fairly loved that poor man into the kingdom. So God's love is our ransom. He "so loved the world, that he ,gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
I do believe that this love of God for men is the greatest key, the surest key, we can use to open the heart of anybody we want to win to Christ. Margaret Meredith tells in a recent number of the Outlook how a notorious rough named Ike Miller, the terror of a mining district in the North of England, was converted. Henry Morehouse, a young preacher scarce out of his boyhood, was preaching to a company of these miners, when Ike Miller came in and took a seat near the front. Preacher and helpers trembled; for this wicked man had threatened to break up the services.
The sermon was on the love of Christ, and the young preacher longed to reach the heart of the wild, grimed miner who sat so strangely quiet, gazing into his face. He could but think that there was an eager look in those hard eyes. But when the meeting was over, some of the good old men gathered around the preacher regretfully.
"Ah, Henry, you didn't preach right. You ought to have preached at Ike Miller. You had a great opportunity and you lost it. That softly sort of preaching won't do him any good. What does he care about the love of Christ? You ought to have warned him. You ought to have frightened him, and tried to make him see his dreadful danger, and the dreadful punishment he is going to get." The young preacher only said in a childlike tone, "I am real sorry I did not preach to him right. I did want so to help him."
Meanwhile the big miner was tramping home. His wife—poor, gaunt woman ! beard his step and started: " Home so early?" she involuntarily cried, and ran in front of the children who were crowding themselves into a corner. But as he entered she stared in bewilderment; he was not drunk; he was not scowling.
He put his arms around her and kissed her, and said, "Lass, God has brought your husband back to you;" then, gathering up the shrinking children, "My little boy and girl, God has brought your father back to you. Now let us all pray," and he knelt down. There was a long pause, a silence but for many sobs; he could not think of any words; his heart was praying, but Ike Miller had uttered no prayer and heard no prayer since he was a little boy. At last words from those distant days came back to him—something that his mother had taught him; and from that hovel floor, in the midst of that remnant of an abused family, to be abused no more, he sounded out in rugged gutturals, groaned out through his sobs :
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
And the Savior, who said, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven," let him come. He had been loved back to the fold. The one chord left in his hard heart had been touched, and it awoke to salvation.
Now let us read all the text, though we can only glance at it long enough to see who it is for. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only be-gotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Thank God, nobody shall perish who clings to the cross. Whosoever shall accept Jesus Christ as his sacrifice for sin shall never perish. If there are any doubtful ones here this morning, kindred to Mr. Fearing in Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," take the comfort of this glorious declaration to your hearts. Mr. Fearing, you know, was always afraid he should fail of reaching the end of his journey. Everything frightened him that he heard anybody speak of, if it had but the least appearance of opposition in it. He lay roaring at the Slough of Despond for more than a month. Though several others passed on and offered to lend him a hand of help, he did not dare to venture. Yet he would not go back again. He said he would die if he did not come to the Celestial City; and yet he was dejected with every difficulty, and stumbled at every straw that anybody cast in his way. Well, after he had lain at the Slough for a great while, one sunshiny morning he gathered up courage somehow, and ventured and got over; but when he was over he would scarcely believe it. He had, Bunyan declares, a Slough of Despond in his mind, a slough that he carried everywhere he went with him. When he finally came to the Hill of Difficulty he made no stick at that, nor did he much fear the lions; for his trouble was not about such things as these, but he was afraid that somehow he would perish at last outside the gate of the kingdom. If there are any Mr. or Mrs. or Miss Fearings here this morning, I pray God that this glorious scripture may take this Slough of Despond out of your mind forever.
There can be no doubt that this message is for every one of us. This blessed word, "whosoever," makes it impossible for anybody to thrust it aside as belonging to some one else more than to him-self. " I thank God for this word 'whosoever,"' said Richard Baxter; "did it read, There is mercy for Richard Baxter, I am so vile, so sinful, that I would have thought it must have meant some other Richard Baxter; but this word `whosoever' includes the worst of all the Baxters that ever lived."
The chaplain of a large prison once related a story to Mr. D. L. Moody, which illustrates this thought of Baxter. The prison commissioners had got the consent of the governor of the State to grant pardons to five men, on account of their good behavior. The governor had required that the record was to be kept secret. The men were to know nothing about it; and at the end of six months the criminals were brought out, the roll was called, and the president of the commission came up and spoke to them. Then putting his hand in his pocket, he drew out the papers and said to those eleven hundred prisoners, " I hold in my hand pardons for five men." The suspense was something awful. Every man held his breath, and was as silent as death. Then the commissioner went on to tell how they obtained these pardons; that it was the governor who granted them. When he had got that far in his speech, the suspense of the men was so terrible the chaplain begged him to read the names of those who were pardoned before he spoke any further. The first-name was given out thus, "Reuben Johnson will come out and get his pardon." He held out the papers, but no one came. He looked all around, expecting to see a man spring forward at once; still no one arose, and he turned to the officer of the prison and said, " Are all the convicts here?" "Yes," was the reply. " Then Reuben Johnson will come and get his pardon."
The real Reuben Johnson was all this time looking around to see where Reuben was. The chap-lain beckoned to him, and he turned and looked around and behind him, thinking some other man must be meant. A second time he beckoned to Reuben, and called to him, and the second time the man looked around to see where Reuben was, until - at last the chaplain said to him, " You are the man, Reuben;" and he rose up out of his seat and sank back again, thinking it could not be true. He had been there for nineteen years, having been placed there for life; and when he came up and took his pardon, he could hardly believe his eyes, and he went back to his seat and wept like a child. O my brothers, my sisters, are there any of you this morning who have heard and read the glorious promises of God's book, offering forgiveness of sin, offering a cleansed and purified heart, promising lofty and holy ideals, pledging peace and joy unspeakable and full of glory, portraying a path-way that shall get brighter and brighter unto the perfect day, and have you turned away from it with a sigh and said, " That might have been possible to me once, but it is too late, I have been a prisoner to evil habits too long, I have given myself over to be a man of the world, until I must not imagine that I shall ever emerge into anything so good and glorious as that. It is a beautiful vision, but, alas, it is too good to be true for me"? O my dear friend, let me ring this glorious word in your ears today--" whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." That "whosoever" means you. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, you may write your name in it, and use it as a, check on the bank of heaven. Oh, what a glorious message from heaven that is
When Bonpland, the celebrated botanist, climbed one of the loftiest peaks of the Andes Mountains, he found that it was a volcano. The rim of the crater was covered with scoriae, and everything looked like desolation and ruin, but in one little crevice a bit of soil had drifted, and there was a tiny, beautiful flower. There in the midst of ashes and lava, with death all about it, it blossomed in loveliness. The showers had fallen upon it, the sun had wooed it from a seed which some bird had dropped there, probably; and there on the edge of this burning crater it shed forth its fragrance. That little flower, growing there on the edge of the crater, is an illustration of the unsearchable riches of the love of God. He follows us and plants the flowers of his love on the very edge of everlasting ruin. He gives me permission—nay, more than that, he puts it on me as my solemn duty to follow the sinner in his downward course to the very last, and even to whisper in his dying ear on the very verge of the crater of hell itself, " God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
"O love divine, how sweet thou art !