Free Eternal Love
“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 4:10)
THIS was the first word that touched my poor, prayerless, hard heart after some days of illness. It pulled prayer through all my death and bondage, and I learnt that if the Holy Ghost only gives a wretch-no matter where he is, how distant, cold, or prayerless, how far down in the pit under the weight and burden of sin-a sight, a hint even, of the free, eternal love of God, it will pull prayer up through all things. It did in my case. I know if I were to live fifty years hence and preach constantly all that time and felt every time of preaching the love of God in my heart, I could never describe half the drawing, attracting influence of a sight and sense of the free, eternal love of God. If you feel it, you will pray; if the devil says you must not, if hardness, if sin, if bondage, if distance all hinder, this, this will make you pray. It is an amazing thing to know this little of truth, as it seems. It did not deliver me, but it made me pray.
Do you ever feel an amazing thing like this in your breast: How can God come to such a sinner? Do you ever wonder if it is possible for the Holy God to look with favor on such a sinner? One of the devil’s ways and efforts with poor tried people is to keep them from the throne of grace. We do not think that; we may even think that this dumbness because of our sins is humility, that it is the proper thing, that it honors God. Ah! but the love of God, if He tells you of it, if He hints it to you, will make you see His honor lies in blessing, in saving, in doing good to sinners. 0, this made me ask Him to come. I was, as it were, constrained sweetly, constantly, night and day, to ask Him to come for love’s sake. I never, never can set it out. 0, how it sparkled! how it filled heaven and earth! I have seen no brightness of the sun to equal the brightness of that shining that drew my soul after Christ.
Now, one thing that He set before me, taught me, fixed upon my spirit day after day, was this: that He was first and would be first. And in thinking about returning and standing among you again, one desire in my spirit and sometimes it was a very strong desire-was this: that I might have the measure of grace necessary to cause me to set Him up and make Him first in my poor ministry. When I was blessed, there was only one feeling that sometimes seemed to come in to disturb me; I had only one fear that crossed my peaceful breast for a single moment some days, and this was the fear-that God must be tired of my poor preaching, and that therefore probably He would lay me aside, if not altogether, yet for the most part. I hope He will not. He has taught me to know He is a good God; and in this particular I hope He has shown me Himself forbearing. He is first, my friends. I was before Him like this, and I said to those about me, “I have got no ornaments on.” He said to Israel, “Put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee” (Ex.33:5). And that was how I was brought; every ornament, as far as I could discover, was put off. What He would do I did not know for some time.
Now, the Holy Ghost by John sets this great thing before us: “Herein is love”-not that He took hold of good men, not that He made a covenant to save men who would in time repent and turn to Him, not that on the foreknowledge of some goodness in any creature did He love them; 0, no! “Herein is love, not that we loved God”; poor, polluted things, enemies, wicked, vile, dust and ashes, with nothing but sin; with no aspirations in their nature but what were vile, their whole being a mass of iniquity. “Herein is love,” that God loved them while thus, loved them though He saw them to be all this; loved an alien into a child, loved a polluted sinner into holiness, loved a guilty wretch into justification; loved them while they bare the image of sin and Satan, and loved them into the image of His dear Son; loved one alienated from Him into union with Him; loved him from hell to heaven; loved him from poverty into riches, the riches of His sovereign grace and eternal life.
Now, sinner, this is it-the free, sovereign love of God will never, never be sufficiently celebrated, never be sufficiently held forth in this world. 0, I wish I knew how to set it forth! Do you know what it is to be a mass of sin? Experimentally, people can only value the goodness of God as they know how much they deserve hell. Goodness, creature goodness, if you think you have any, the Lord will strip off you if He loves you. You will be as sure to put it away as Israel put off their ornaments when the Lord bid them. 0, is it not a business, is it not one of the hardest passes to which a man born to die and knowing that, can possibly come-to have to deal with the great God in his rags, his filth, his death, his unworthiness; to be before the Lord like that?
“To see sin smarts but slightly;
To own with lip confession,
Is easier still; but 0 to feel
Cuts deep beyond expression.”
If you know what this is, and then know what it is to have given to you a sight of the Son of God, a sight of the Way to God, you then know a little of free, eternal love. It is uncaused, my friends. There is no more reason why God should love you, love me, or love any creature, than there was that He should make the world. He made the world because He would; He loves people because He will. You must be brought, and if the Lord loves you you will be brought, sooner or later, to this-to a ground on which the Lord will put you, a ground in which is not one single atom of created, polluted dust [polluted by sin, not as created]-God Himself the Saviour and the very Salvation of His people.
“Herein is love.” It is eternal; there never was a moment when the Lord did not love His Church. Why should such a favor fall to any of us? If you are convinced of sin, you know there is no creature worse than yourself. I do not mean, of course, as to outward conduct; God’s people walk strictly, by His mercy they are not left to live in open wickedness all their days. You may properly lift your head up among men, but you know, as to the root and seed of sin, there is no creature worse than yourself. The best source of humility is the goodness of God known and felt. Now, I felt, when the Lord blessed me, that the kind intentions of my friends, the kind inquiries you made, of which I was told from time to time, were all too much for me. I mean this, I did not deserve that anyone should ask about me. I had one feeling in my soul; O, I did love it! It was this, and I expressed it: “Now,” I said, “when I get to heaven (and I believed I should get there) there will be only one wonder there greater than my presence, and that is the Person of Christ.” He is the greatest wonder; there will be nobody before Him. Sinner, this love of God will put you into nothingness in your own esteem.
I was led back in my mind to see by faith this eternal love of God; it opened my mouth wide and I could ask anything and everything, even before I got the blessing. I was made earnest by this. “Herein is love.” I wish God would make you feel it, if it could be His holy will. There is a taste about it that no person can communicate to another. I cannot demonstrate to you what it was to my spiritual palate-this eternal love of God. Only I know I never tasted anything so sweet or half so sweet. I would not-and I hope I can say it not out of a boastful, foolish, light, ignorant spirit, but out of some little measure of knowledge-I would not part with what God has been to me lately for all the pleasures, honors, sweetness, gold, and good things that the whole world affords. Five minutes with God, 0, how good! and I have been favored with more than that. “Herein is love.” Blessed love, wonderful love; it brought me out of my death, darkness, and trouble.
Now look at it a few minutes, as God may help us, in the gift of it, the fruit of it: “Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and”-as the fruit and effect of it-“sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” That is the gift, the fruit of love. God does not love His people because Christ died for them, but Christ died for them because God loved them. Christ died for them because He loved them, and the Spirit quickens and teaches them because He loves them. The death of Christ is the fruit of eternal love. The Person of Christ, Emmanuel, is the fruit of eternal love. The Person of Christ! Ah, my friends, it is one thing to read about Him, and a good thing it is to do that; it is one thing to see Him at a distance; many of God’s saints see Him by precious faith at a distance, and the sight makes them long for Him. You could not see Him and not love Him; you could not see Him and not pant for Him. Ah, the sight of Christ will open the hardest heart to Him, prepare the way for Him, and beget a welcome for Him when He comes.
“And sent His Son.” God sent Him. He sent Him in Old Testament days. Sin had hardly entered before God went to Eden with the Saviour in divine promise: “The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” In type, in shadow, in prophecy, in promise, God sent His Son, but He sent Him actually in “the fulness of time.” His blessed Son was “made of a woman, made under the law.” Says one, and some of us have said it-
“My faith looks back to see
The burden Thou didst bear
When hanging on the accursed tree,
And hopes her guilt was there.”
“Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”
Now, experimentally, He sends Him in a revelation to every soul born of the Spirit; and this is a point I wish to insist on for a few minutes. In some measure, in some way, you shall, if one of God’s people, receive into your heart the Lord Jesus Christ by revelation. When you do so receive Him, that truth will take hold of you: “They shall teach no more every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know Me from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). Henry Cole, in his sermon on receiving Christ, says, “He is the humblest soul and the richest disciple who receives Christ in a revelation of His dying sufferings.” When I was under the blessing, I could have spoken of it as I cannot now; because, as Hart, knowing well the point, says:
“Thy garden is the place
Where pride durst not intrude;
For should it dare to enter there,
‘Twould soon be drowned in blood.”
I believe when I was there I understood that, and if I had had strength could then have told you without feeling that which I fear now, a feeling of pride-what I saw in a revealed Christ; revealed in His suffering love, broken heart, smitten, bruised spirit. It was wonderful. “Sent His Son.” You must have Him sent to you in some way. He has been revealed to me in different ways many times in years past; many years ago He was first revealed, when I received the pardon of all my sins; and my soul hung about Him and was satisfied, sure at the time that it was well with me, matters were all straight between God and my soul. But though I have had hints and inklings of that wondrous thing, the sufferings of Christ, never before have I had in the measure of it such a revelation in my soul as this. For one whole week every day it was renewed in a little measure; and 0, the bruised feeling! you know who have had it-nobody else does-the peculiar soft, tender, repenting, sweet, humbling feeling that takes possession of the whole soul. How hateful is sin, how loathsome is self, how bitter is a wandering nature, a depraved heart! And 0, you can lose a sense of your own pain and troubles in gazing on the Lord Jesus. I thought when I was under this pleasure that I a little understood-a very little, do not misunderstand me-what strength God gave to the martyrs to bear their sufferings when He was present with them. What cannot a man bear, what cannot he submit to, when he has the dear, dying, suffering Lord Jesus Christ with him! My brethren, there is nothing I pray for you more than this now-that God may reveal in you who fear His name the dying, the suffering, the bleeding love of the Lord Jesus Christ. 0, if we only, as a people, could together be blessed to look into His sufferings, to gaze with the eye of faith on His broken heart! It sometimes seems too sacred to mention. You want to be alone when under the power of it. 0, the softness, the sweetness, the repentance, the love, the gratitude, the wonder that you feel! This is the way which is so safe, because it crucifies self. “I live,” says the apostle, “yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. ii. 20). It also crucifies you to the world. Ah, it does; it puts the bubbles away, the glitter away; it puts all else into darkness for the time; you have enough.
“No fatal shipwreck shall I fear,
But all my treasure with me bear.”
Now, do you, some of you, feel as if you could almost address me and say, “Ah, but then we shall never get this.” Poor soul, it is not right in you to say it; why should you not get it? “Herein is love,” not that you love God. You did not love Him when He quickened you, did you? You did not love Him when He stopped you in the way of sin? No. “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thy own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.” Now, if He came then, why should He not come and do the other? I was far off in my feelings; bodily trouble made me fret, I thought God was hard; and then He came! The beginning, the first words that came on my mind and began to enter and soften and dissolve, were those you were singing just now.
“But thorns and knotted whips and bands
By us were furnished to their hands.”
I shall never forget it. And I know I said, not “us” but “me”. And 0, when this comes in, there is no room for fretfulness. I said, I did it, and I know I did it. When you know your sins were there, when you see Him suffering for you, poor sinner, then you feel
“Thorns and knotted whips and bands
By me were furnished to their hands.”
I had the gospel in my very soul; it bore my spirit up, it meekened my heart, crumbled my mind, brought me to have a heavenly affection set wholly on the Lord; and this was His love. “Herein is love.” I shall never be able to talk about it as I wish, to exalt it as it deserves to be exalted, this free love of God.
O poor, seeking soul, if you can, if there is room in your mind, listen to this; let me say this to you: Do not say you are too poor and miserable and contracted, unbelieving and hard, for this to come to you. The revelation of Christ will save you, it will crumble you, the revelation of Christ will make you the most broken-hearted, sweetly repenting sinner on the face of the earth; and then you will see the world in darkness and death, and the narrow path, as I saw it, with a high hedge on either side; the narrow path full of light and pleasantness to faith, on which there is no stumbling-block laid by the Lord; on which is no tax, across which is no bar. 0, I saw this path by faith; I knew I was in it. I had the witness of the blessed Spirit in my soul that I was in this path, and that I was going home, although I had no feeling at all that I was going to die then; but I knew I should one day get to the end.
And now, what can I say to you, my brethren? That this is the wish of my heart, that the Holy and blessed Spirit, Who was so kind to me, would show you the same favor.
“Of this the best of men have need;
This I, the worst, receive.”
Although I have been grieved on one ground to be absent from you, yet I can say this, I would not have been without the affliction and the bodily suffering for all the world-for what the Holy Ghost has been pleased to reveal in my soul of the sufferings of the dear, injured, bruised, mangled, precious Saviour of my soul and of yours, many of you.
Now I must leave it. I hope the Lord will cause you to hunger and thirst. O, a hungry religion is a good religion; God has annexed a promise to it: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” “Herein is love, not that we loved God”; not ,that we are good; no, no. Not that we are a toward people, but most untoward. Not that we got a good and kindly disposition to God; “Not that we loved God, but that He loved us,”-would love us, meant to have us, would not be put off, and showed His love by sending His only-begotten Son to be “the propitiation for our sins.”
May the Lord bless your souls. May the Holy Ghost enter your hearts; may He bring this precious Christ, bring Him in His sufferings to you, if it can be His holy will.
By James Popham