Studies in 1 John
Chapter 4, verses 7-8
"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love" (vv 7-8).
That last phrase, 'God is love', is rightly esteemed one of the most significant words in the Scriptures. It is certainly one of the best known. It has been the inspiration for countless sermons and it has formed the subject of scornful comment by agnostics and atheists. It has been appealed to by those who would point men to a future hope in consolation for present distress and it has been quoted bitterly by those who cannot reconcile it with their present distress. Yet it has lived on; no man has been able to destroy the simple beauty of those three simple words nor tear them down from the lofty position they occupy in the world. The proclamation that God is love will always be proclaimed while Christianity itself is proclaimed ‑ and that will be forever.
There is an almost equally important word enshrined in this text: "Love is of God". Important, because that statement connects directly with the Divine purpose in creation. If God is love, and love is of God, then it follows that all His creation is inspired and directed by love. It follows that all His creatures will have their lives guided and controlled by love and that in their lives they manifest love. If God is love, then the controlling principle of the universe is love, and whatever exists in antagonism to love is out of harmony with the spirit of the Universe and will therefore pass away. We are now getting near to some connection between love and righteousness; and between 'lovelessness' and sin, and that is just what John wants for us. He is striving to show that unless we do love in sincerity and truth we are not of God, and that in turn means that we are yet in our sins.
We can well afford to linger for a while over this word "love is of God". It forges a link between the Divine and ourselves. The Scriptures exhort us to be fashioned into copy-likenesses of "God's dear Son". Since He is like His Father, then we, if made "like Him", will be like the Father also. That takes us back in thought to the time when God said "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness". Was that expressed intention completely carried out in Eden? Surely not! Man as then made, might well have been in the image and likeness of God in many respects but certainly not in all.
He was not like God in His steadfast hatred of sin; not in His unswerving insistence on righteousness. He was not like God in that far-seeing wisdom, inflexible justice, all-embracing love, that constitute three of the four attributes ascribed to God. And in the fourth of the Divine attributes, that of power, weak, puny man certainly has not yet proved himself to be anywhere near the likeness of God. We have to conclude that God spoke of His ultimate purpose with man and that He intends man to be fully in His own image and likeness at the end of the Millennial Age. What He did in Eden was only the beginning.
Nevertheless what was done in Eden certainly did manifest the fact that "love is of God". Divine love prompted the creation of man and all that went with that creation. It was Mark Twain who once observed that the proof to him that God has a sense of humour is the fact that He created ducks ‑ otherwise He would not have devised such comical creatures. In much the same way we might observe, and perhaps with greater propriety, that the proof to us that our God is a God of love is the fact that He created man. The love of God is revealed in all that He has done for man since the beginning of creation, and in all that He has promised yet to do.
The very existence of this earth with all its possibilities, is evidence of the truth of John's words "Love is of God". The fact that we have brains capable of thinking to the extent that we can think is but further evidence. But all of these considerations pale into insignificance beside the supreme example of Divine love, the one that is always in our minds and forms the background if not the subject of every Christian sermon and discourse. "God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3.16). That is without doubt the most well-known verse in the Bible and by far the most often quoted. John recalls those words here at this point in his own fashion. "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." (vv.9-10). Is not John teaching true doctrine here when he turns away as it were from the evidences of Divine love in creation and all that has been given to man, and points to the coming of Jesus as the evidence of God's love, before all else. Obviously it must be so, for all those other gifts of God to man, the tokens of His love for man, can be enjoyed only if man is righteous, fully in the image and likeness of God. Only by the giving of Jesus His only begotten Son to be our redeemer can any of those other gifts be enjoyed in perpetuity. Without this supreme gift, all the other manifestations of Divine love will have been of no ultimate avail. That shows us one thing very clearly. It shows us that God could never be satisfied with an intelligent human creation the individuals of which were to live only for a limited period and then pass into death. He could not be satisfied with the praise and worship of dying creatures. He has planned for men an endless life, a life in which praise and worship will never come to an end; that fact, more than any other consideration, ought to assure us that God will never relax His efforts to bring each of His wandering children back to Himself until it is abundantly evident that the case is hopeless.
It is no empty phrase that the Apostle uses when he declares that God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth".(1 Tim.2. 4). We sometimes whittle down the force of that Scripture by suggesting it means only that God will 'save' all men from death in Adam and give them the Millennial opportunity of reformation. It does mean that, but it means much more. It is God's will that all men should be saved eternally and enter into the full realisation of Divine truth that will come to the eternally redeemed. It is possible for a man to defy God's will in this respect. He made men so able to defy Him. In consequence some may refuse thus to be saved. Revelation 20. 9, if taken as a prophetic fore-view of a coming historical event, indicates that there will be some such. But it still remains true that it is "not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt.18.14).
In these few verses all the emphasis is on Divine love and the achievement of that love. The love of God prompted the sending of His Son into the world to be a propitiation for our sins, that we might live through Him. Just how is it that this manifestation of love achieves the great work of reconciling mankind to God? It seems rather remarkable that we in our discussions on the subject of the Atonement put the emphasis on the word "blood" whereas the Scriptures do lay considerable emphasis on the word "love". Is it after all possible that there is a mystic, a spiritual and yet for all that ‑ perhaps because of that ‑ an overwhelming power in love that, in a fashion we do not yet understand, is a compelling force, leading men to righteousness? We tend to think of the influence of love upon another life as consisting merely in sentiment, force of example, appeal to the other's better nature, and so on. What if, after all, the declaration "God IS Love", "Love is of God" has a reality of which we have never yet dreamed, and that every exhibition or manifestation of selfless love does let loose in the world a force which influences men, even without their knowledge, more powerfully than any power of evil? If that be so, we can, maybe, see more clearly than before, why the Dark Ages theology of the Atonement, that Satan demanded the life of Jesus as a ransom for condemned man, has been abandoned in this our day. The Love of God required the death of Jesus because only by that death could the Love of the Father and of the Son become a mighty reformatory force in the hearts of mankind.
(to be continued)