The Love of God!
by John Gill
"Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her" Ephesians 5:25
"Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God" 2 Thessalonians 3:5
By the love of God here, to understand God's love to us; concerning the nature and glory of which, take the following hints:
1. As to the ORIGINAL of God's love — it is free and sovereign.Nothing outside of God moved him to it. He did not set his love upon us, because of any loveliness in us; or because of any love in us to him. Not because of any loveliness in ourselves — for we were in no way better than others, being by nature the children of wrath. Nor because of any love in us to him; for his love is prior to ours, as the cause is to the effect. And, indeed, he loved us, before we had done either good or evil, that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand.
No other reason can he given of God's loving his people, but his own Sovereign good will and pleasure. Nor ought any other to be sought for — he loves them simply because he will love them. And though, perhaps, this may not be allowed to be a sufficient reason, by your men of reason — yet it is what the Holy Spirit thought fit to give us, and we should be satisfied with it, Deuteronomy 7:7, 8. "The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people (for you were the fewest of all people); but because the Lord loved you!"
2. As to the OBJECTS of God's free and sovereign love — it is special and discriminating.He loves some — and not others. It is true, he has a general love and regard to all his creatures. He is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. They all share in the bounties of his providence. He makes his sun to shine on the evil and on the good. He sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
But then, he has chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure. Hence he bestows special blessings on those to whom he bears a special love. David says, Psalm 106:4, "Remember me with the favor that you bear unto your people;" very plainly intimating, that it was special and discriminating; of a different nature from that which he bore to others.
A full instance of this distinguishing love, we have in Malachi 1:2, 3, "I have loved you, says the Lord; yet you say, wherein have you loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? says the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and hated Esau." And, as I said before, no other reason can be given of this distinction which God makes among the lost sons of Adam, but his own sovereign will; who will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will be gracious to whom he will be gracious — let a wrangling world say what they please.
3. As to the COMMENCEMENT of God's free and sovereign love — it is from eternity.God has loved his people with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness he draws them to himself in time. Many are the instances which might be given, in proof of the antiquity of this love. His choosing them in Christ, before the foundation of the world, was an act of his love, for Election presupposes love. His entering into an everlasting covenant with his Son, on the account of those he chose; his setting him up as the Mediator of that Covenant, from everlasting; and his giving of grace to them, in him, before the world began — are so many demonstrations of his early love to them. As also, his putting their persons into the hands of Christ, and so making them his care and charge. Because he loved the people (Deut 33:5), all his saints are in his hand.
Now, can it ever be imagined, that there should be a choice of persons; a covenant of grace, so well formed and stored; a promise of life granted; and security given both for person and grace, and yet no love all this while? No, these things prove his love, and this love does not commence with ours; nor, indeed, with time; but bears date from eternity.
4. As to the DURATION of God's free and sovereign love — it is eternal; for it reaches from one eternity to another.Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end. He loves them to the end of time, and will love them throughout the endless ages of eternity; for he rests in his love towards them, and from it there can be no separation. "For I am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the Love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38, 39.
5. As to the DEGREE of God's free and sovereign love — it is unparalleled.It appears very great in the conversion of a poor sinner. Hence, says the apostle, Ephesians 2:4, 5, "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ." But in sending his Son to die for sinners, it appears yet greater. "Scarcely for a righteous man (says the apostle, Romans 5:7, 8) will one die; but God commended his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." But who will die for those wicked, profligate, and abandoned wretches? No one! But God commended his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Matchless, unparalleled grace!
6. As to the NATURE and quality of of God's free and sovereign love — it is unchangeable.It is as invariable as his own nature; nay, it is his nature — for God is love. (1 John 4:16) The blessings of his grace are irreversible, because they proceed from him, who is the Father of lights, with whom there is nor variableness, nor shadow of turning. Hence also it is, that our salvation does not stand upon a precarious foundation; which it would do, if his love to us changed, as ours to him does. But he is the Lord, who changes not; therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.
God sometimes changes the dispensations of his providences towards his people — but never changes his love. He sometimes hides, and he sometimes chides — but at all times he loves. When he hides his face from his people for a moment — he still, with everlasting kindness will have mercy on them. "For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my loving-kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord, that has mercy on you." (Isaiah 54:8, 10)
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us!" Ephesians 2:4
1. All that God has made is the object of his love— all the works of creation, when he had made them, he looked over them, and saw that they were good, "very good", (Genesis 1:31) he was well pleased, and delighted with them. Yes, he is said to "rejoice in his works." (Psalm 104:31). He upholds all creatures in their beings, and is the Preserver of all, both men and beasts; and is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works, (Psalm 36:6, 145:9) and particularly, rational creatures are the objects of his care, love, and delight. And so he bears a GENERAL love to all men, as they are his creatures, his offspring, and the work of his hands. He supports them, preserves them, and bestows the bounties of his providence in common upon them, (Acts 17:28, 14:17; Matthew 5:45).
But he bears a SPECIAL love to elect men in Christ; which is called his "great love", (Ephesians 2:4) whom he has chosen and blessed with all spiritual blessings in him, (Ephesians 1:3, 4) and which love is distinguishing and discriminating (Malachi 1:1, 2; Romans 9:11, 12). I go on to,
2. Give some INSTANCES of the special love of God, particularly to chosen men in Christ, and who share in the love of Father, Son, and Spirit.
The love of the FATHER has appeared:
in thinking thoughts of peace towards them,
in contriving and forming the scheme of their salvation and reconciliation in Christ, from eternity, (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19)
in choosing them in him from the beginning, even from everlasting — to salvation, by him, (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
in putting their persons into the hands of Christ, and securing and preserving them in him, (Deuteronomy 33:3; Jude 1:1)
in laying up all blessings in him for them, and blessing them with them so early, (Ephesians 1:3, 4)
in appointing Christ to be the Savior of them;
in providing, promising, and sending him into the world, to work out their salvation, (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9, 10; Titus 3:4, 5)
in the pardon of their sins through the blood of Christ, (Isaiah 38:17; Ephesians 1:7)
in their adoption, (1 John 3:1)
in their regeneration and conversion, (Jeremiah 31:3; Ephesians 2:4, 5)
and in the gift of eternal life unto them (Romans 6:23).
The love of the SON of God appears:
in espousing the persons of the elect, those in whom his delights were before the world was, (Proverbs 8:31; Hosea 2:19
in becoming their Surety for good, undertaking their cause, engaging to do the will of God with that cheerfulness he did; which was to work out their salvation, (Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 7:22)
in assuming their nature, in the fullness of time, to redeem them, work out a righteousness, and make reconciliation for them, (Galatians 4:4, 5; Romans 8:3, 4; Hebrews 2:14, 17)
by giving himself as a Sacrifice for them;
by laying down his life on their account; and
by shedding his blood for the cleansing of their souls, and the remission of their sins (Ephesians 5:2, 25; Titus 2:14; 1 John 3:16; Revelation 1:5).
The love of the SPIRIT, of which mention is made in (Romans 15:30) appears:
in his coming into the hearts of God's elect, to convince them of sin and righteousness, and to comfort them;
by showing the grace of the covenant, and the blessings of it to them;
by opening and applying the promises of it;
by shedding abroad the love of God and Christ in their hearts;
by implanting every grace in them, and drawing them forth into exercise;
by witnessing to their spirits their adoption;
by assisting them in every duty, particularly in prayer, making intercession for them, according to the will of God;
and in being the pledge, and seal of them to the day of redemption (John 16:7, 8; Romans 8:15, 16, 26, 27; Ephesians 1:13, 14).
3. It may be proper next to consider the PROPERTIES of the special love of God towards chosen men, which will lead more into the NATURE of it.
There is no CAUSE of it outside of God; there is no motive or inducement to it in them — there is no loveliness in them to excite it; all men by nature are corrupt and abominable; rather to be loathed than loved; and those that are loved, are no better than others, all being under sin; and are, "by nature, children of wrath, as others"; as deserving of that as those that are not loved, (Romans 3:9; Ephesians 2:3).
Whatever loveliness or beauty is in saints — is owing to the righteousness of Christ, imputed to them; which is that loveliness that is put upon them, whereby they are made perfectly lovely; and to the sanctifying grace of the Spirit, whereby they are all glorious within, and appear in the beauties of holiness. All of this is the fruit of the love of God — and not the cause of it.
Nor can it be any love in them to God, which is the cause of his to them; for they had no love in them when Christ died for them; nor until regenerated by the Spirit of God; and when they love him — it is because he first loved them, (1 John 4:10, 19) and though Christ is said to love those who love him, and the Father is said to love them too — yet this must not be understood of the first love of God and Christ unto them, nor of the first display of it; but of further and larger manifestations of it to them; and is descriptive of the persons who are most certainly and evidently the objects of their love; but not as being the cause of it, (Proverbs 8:17; John 14:21, 23, 16:27).
Nor are good works the cause of this love; for God's special love, at least, in one instance of it, was before either good or evil were done, (Romans 9:11, 12) and in other instances it broke forth towards them, and broke in upon them while they were yet in their sins, and before they were capable of performing good works, (Romans 5:8; Titus 3:3, 4; Ephesians 2:2-4).
How can it be thought, that since the best works of men are so impure and imperfect as to be reckoned as filthy rags — that these should be the cause of God's love to men? No, even faith itself is not — that "is the gift of God", and flows from electing love, and is a fruit and evidence of it (Ephesians 2:8; Acts 13:48; Titus 1:1). God loves men, not because they have faith — but they have faith given them, because God loves them. It is true indeed, that "without faith it is impossible to please God"; that is, to do those things which are pleasing in his sight; but then the persons of God's elect, may be, and are, well pleasing to God, in Christ, before faith, and without it.
In short, the special love of God purely flows from his good will and pleasure; who "is gracious to whom he will be gracious", (Exodus 33:19). It is that pure river that proceeds out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb, as an emblem of sovereignty, (Rev. 22:1) as God loved the people of Israel because he loved them, or would love them; and for no other reason, (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8) in like manner he loves his spiritual and mystical Israel.
The special love of God is ETERNAL — it does not commence in time, it is without beginning, it is from eternity. This is evident from the love of God to Christ, which was before the foundation of the world; and with the same love he loved him, he loved his people also, and as early, (John 17:23, 24) and from various acts of love to them in eternity; as the election of them in Christ, which supposes the love of them, (Ephesians 1:4) the covenant of grace made with them, in which, grants of grace, and promises of glory, were made before the world began; and Christ was set up as the Mediator of it from everlasting. All of these are strong proofs of the special love of God to them (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2; Proverbs 8:22, 23).
The special love of God is immutable, unalterable, and invariable. It is like himself, "the same today, yesterday, and forever." Indeed, God is love; it is his nature; it is himself; and therefore must be without any variableness, or shadow of turning. It admits of no distinctions, by which it appears to alter and vary.
The special love of God admits of no degrees, it neither increases nor decreases; it is the same from the instant in eternity it began, without any change. It is needless to ask whether it is the same before as after conversion, since there were as great, if not greater gifts of love, bestowed on the object loved, before conversion, as after — such as the gift of God himself, in the everlasting covenant; the gift of his Son to die for them when in their sins; and the gift of the Spirit to them, in order to regenerate, quicken, and convert them. Heaven itself, eternal life, is not a greater gift than these — and yet they were all before conversion.
There never were any stops, hindrances, or impediments to this love — not the fall of Adam, nor the sad effects of it — nor the actual sins and transgressions of God's people, in a state of nature — nor all their backslidings, after called by grace — for still he loves them freely, (Hosea 14:4). God foreknew that they would fall in Adam, with others, that they would be transgressors from the womb, and do as much evil as they could — yet this hindered not his taking up thoughts of love towards them, his choice of them, and covenant with them.
Conversion makes a change in them — it brings them from the power of Satan to God, from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty; from fellowship with evil men — to communion with God. But conversion of his people makes no change in the love of God.
God changes his dispensations and dealings with them — but never changes his love. He sometimes rebukes and chastises them — but still he loves them. He sometimes hides his face from them — but his love continues the same, (Psalm 89:29-33; Isaiah 54:7-10).
The manifestations of his love are various; to some they are greater, to others less; and so to the same persons, at different times; but the love in his own heart is invariable and unchangeable.
The special love of God endures forever — it is an everlasting love, in that sense, (Jeremiah 31:3). It is the bond of union between God and Christ, and the elect. It can never be dissolved; nothing can separate it, nor separate from it (Romans 8:35, 38, 39). The union it is the bond of, is next to that, and like it, which is between the three divine persons (John 17:21, 23). The union between soul and body, may be, and is dissolved, at death — but neither death nor life can separate from this union with Christ. This loving-kindness of God never departs. Though health, and wealth, and friends, and life itself may depart — this never will, (Isaiah 54:10). Whatever God takes away, as all the said things may be taken away by him — he will never take away his special love from his people, (Psalm 89:33). Having loved his own who were in the world, he loves them to the end — to the end of their lives, to the end of time, and to all eternity! (John 13:1).