Love That Passeth Knowledge
To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.—Ephesians 3:19
If I could only make men understand the real meaning of the words of the apostle John, “God is love,” I would take that single text, and go up and down the world proclaiming this glorious truth. If you can convince a man that you love him, you have won his heart. If we really make people believe that God loves them, how we should find them crowding into the kingdom of heaven! The trouble is that men think God hates them; and so they are all the time running away from Him.
A Text Burned In
We built a church in Chicago some years ago and were very anxious to teach people the love of God. We thought if we could not preach it into their hearts we would try and burn it in; so we put right over the pulpit in gas jets these words, “God Is Love.” A man going along the streets one night glanced through the door, and saw the text. He was a poor prodigal. As he passed on he thought to himself: “’God is love!’ No! He does not love me; for I am a poor miserable sinner.” He tried to get rid of the text, but it seemed to stand out right before him in letters of fire. He went on a little further, then turned round, went back, and entered the meeting. He did not hear the sermon; but the words of that short text had got deeply lodged in his heart, and that was enough. It is of little account what men say if the Word of God only gets an entrance into the sinner’s heart. He stayed after the first meeting was over; and I found him there weeping like a child. As I unfolded the Scriptures and told him how God had loved him all the time, although he had wandered so far away; and how God was waiting to receive him and forgive him, the light of the Gospel broke into his mind, and he went away rejoicing.
There is nothing in this world that men prize so much as they do love.Show me a person who has no one to care for or love him, and I will show you one of the most wretched beings on the face of the earth. Why do people commit suicide? Very often it is because this thought steals in upon them—that no one loves them; and they would rather die than live.
I know of no truth in the whole Bible that ought to come home to us with such power and tenderness as that of the love of God; and there is no truth in the Bible that Satan would so much like to blot out. For more than six thousand years he has been trying to persuade men that God does not love them. He succeeded in making our first parents believe this life, and he too often succeeds with their children.
When Does God Love Us?
The idea that God does not love us often comes from false teaching. Mothers make a mistake in teaching children that God does not love them when they do wrong; but only when they do right. That is not taught in Scripture. Youdo not teach your children that when they do wrong you hate them. Their wrongdoing does not change your love to hate; if it did, you would change your love a great many times. Because your child is fretful, or has committed some act of disobedience, you do not cast him out as though he did not belong to you! No! He is still your child, and you love him. And if men have gone astray from God it does not follow that He hates them.It is the sinthat He hates.
I believe the reason why a great many people think God does not love them is because they are measuring God by their own small rule, from their own standpoint. We love men as long as we consider them worthy of our love; when they are not, we cast them off. It is not so with God. There is a vast difference between human love and divine love.
The Dimensions of God’s Love
In Ephesians 3:18 we are told of the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of God’s love. Many of us think we know something of God’s love, but centuries hence we shall admit we have never found out much about it. Columbus discovered America; but what did he know about its great lakes, rivers, forests, and the Mississippi Valley? He died without knowing much about what he had discovered.
So, many of us have discovered something of the love of God; but there are heights, depths and lengths of it we do not know. That love is a great ocean; and we require to plunge into it before we really know anything of it. It is said of a Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris, that when he was thrown into prison and condemned to be shot, a little while before he was led out to die, he saw a window in his cell in the shape of a cross. Upon the top of the cross he wrote “height,” at the bottom “depth,” and at the end of each arm “length.” He had experienced the truth conveyed in the hymn—
“When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died.”
When we wish to know the love of God we should go to Calvary. Can we look upon that scene, and say God did not love us? That cross speaks of the love of God. Greater love never has been taught than that which the cross teaches. What prompted God to give up Christ?—what prompted Christ to die?—if it were not love? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Christ laid down His life for His enemies; Christ laid down His life for His murderers; Christ laid down His life for them that hated Him; and the spirit of the cross, the spirit of Calvary, is love. When they were mocking Him and deriding Him, what did He say? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That is love. He did not call down fire from heaven to consume them; there was nothing but love in His heart.
The Love of God Is Unchangeable
If you study the Bible you will find that the love of God is unchangeable.Many who loved you at one time have perhaps grown cold in their affections, and turned away from you: it may be that their love is changed to hatred. It is not so with God. It is recorded of Jesus Christ, just when He was about to be parted from His disciples and led away to Calvary, that “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). He knew that one of His disciples would betray Him; yet He loved Judas. He knew that another disciple would deny Him, and swear that he never knew Him; and yet He loved Peter. It was the love which Christ had for Peter that broke his heart, and brought him back in penitence to the feet of his Lord. For three years Jesus had been with the disciples trying to teach them His love, not only by His life and words, but by His work. And, on the night of His betrayal, He takes a basin of water, girds Himself with a towel, and taking the place of a servant, washes their feet; He wanted to convince them of His unchanging love.
There is no portion of Scripture I read so often as John 14; and there is none that is more sweet to me. I never tire of reading it. Hear what our Lord says as He pours out His heart to His disciples: “At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you. He that hath My commandments, and keepth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved by My Father” (14:20–21). Think of the great God who created heaven and Earth loving you and me! “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” (v. 23).
Would to God that our puny minds could grasp this great truth, that the Father and the Son so love us that they desire to come and abide with us. Not to tarry for a night, but to come and abidein our hearts!
We have another passage more wonderful still in John 17:23. “I in them, and Thou in Me, and that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me.”That is one of the most remarkable sayings that ever fell from the lips of Jesus Christ. There is no reason why the Father should not love Him. He was obedient unto death; He never transgressed the Father’s law, or turned aside from the path of perfect obedience by one hair’s breadth. It is very different with us, and yet, notwithstanding all our rebellion and foolishness, He says that if we are trusting in Christ, the Father loves us as He loves the Son. Marvelous love! Wonderful love! That God can possibly love us as He loves His own Son seems too good to be true. Yet that is the teaching of Jesus Christ.
It is hard to make a sinner believe in this unchangeable love of God. When a man has wandered away from God he thinks that God hates him. We must make a distinction between sin and the sinner. God loves the sinner; but He hates the sin. He hates sin, because it mars human life. It is just because God loves the sinner that He hates sin.
God’s Love Is Unfailing
God’s love is not only unchangeable, but unfailing. In Isaiah 49:15–16 we read: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me.”
Now the strongest human love that we know of is a mother’s love.Many things will separate a man from his wife. A father may turn his back on his child; brothers and sisters may become inveterate enemies; husbands may desert their wives; wives, their husbands. But a mother’s love endures through all. In good repute, in bad repute, in the face of the world’s condemnation, a mother loves on and hopes that her child may turn from his evil ways and repent. She remembers the infant smiles, the merry laugh of childhood, the promise of youth; and she can never be brought to think him unworthy. Death cannot quench a mother’s love; it is stronger than death.
You have seen a mother watching over her sick child. How willingly she would take the disease into her own body if she could thus relieve her child! Week after week she will keep watch. She will let no one else take care of that sick child.
The Love of God Surpasses a Mother’s Love
But let me tell you that no mother’s love is to be compared with the love of God; it does not measure the height or the depth of God’s love. No mother in this world ever loved her child as God loves you and me. Think of the love that God must have had when He gave His Son to die for the world! I used to think a good deal more of Christ than I did of the Father. Somehow or other I had the idea that God was a stern judge; that Christ came between me and God, and appeased the anger of God. But after I became a father, and for years had an only son, as I looked at my boy I thought of the Father giving His Son to die, and it seemed to me as if it required more love for the Father to give His Son than for the Son to die. Oh, the love that God must have had for the world when He gave His Son to die for it! “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I have never been able to preach from that text. I have often thought I would, but it is so high that I can never climb to its height. I have just quoted it and passed on. Who can fathom the depth of those words: “God soloved the world”? We can never scale the heights of His love, or fathom its depths. Paul prayed that he might know the height, the depth, the length, and the breadth of the love of God; but it was past his finding out. It “passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 2:19).
The Cross of Christ Speaks of the Love of God
Nothing speaks to us of the love of God like the cross of Christ. Come with me to Calvary, and look upon the Son of God as He hangs there. Can you hear that piercing cry from His dying lips: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!” and say that He does not love you? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). But Jesus Christ laid down His life for His enemies.
Another thought is this: He loved us long before we ever thought of Him. The idea that He does not love us until we first love Him is not to be found in Scripture. In 1 John 4:10 it is written: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” He loved us before we ever thought of loving Him. You loved your children before they knew anything about your love. And so, long before we ever thought of God, we were in His thoughts.
What brought the prodigal home? It was the thought that his father loved him. Suppose the news had reached him that he was a cast-off, and that his father did not care for him any more, would he have gone back? Never! But the thought dawned upon him that his father loved him still: so he rose up, and went back to his home. Dear reader, the love of the Father ought to bring us back to Him. It was Adam’s calamity and sin that revealed God’s love. When Adam fell God came down and dealt in mercy with him. If anyone is lost it will not be because God does not love him: it will be because he has resisted the love of God.
What Will Make Heaven Attractive?
Is it the pearly gates or the golden streets? No. Heaven will be attractive because there we shall behold Him who loved us so much as to give His only begotten Son to die for us. What makes home attractive? Is it the beautiful furniture and stately rooms? No; some homes with all these are like whited sepulchers.
In Brooklyn a mother was dying; and it was necessary to take her child from her, because the little child could not understand the nature of the sickness, and disturbed her mother. Every night the child sobbed herself to sleep in a neighbor’s house, because she wanted to go back to her mother’s; but the mother grew worse, and they could not take the child home. At last the mother died; and after her death they thought it best not to let the child see her dead mother in her coffin. After the burial the child ran into one room crying, “Mamma! Mamma!” and then into another crying, “Mamma! Mamma!” and so went over the whole house; and when the little creature failed to find that loved one, she cried to be taken back to the neighbors. So what makes heaven attractive is the thought that we shall see Christ who has loved us and given Himself for us.
If you ask me why God should love us, I cannot tell. I suppose it is because He is a true father. It is His nature to love; just as it is the nature of the sun to shine. He wants you to share in that love. Do not let unbelief keep you away from Him. Do not think that, because you are a sinner, God does not love you, or care for you. He does! He wants to save you and bless you.
“When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Is that not enough to convince you that He loves you? He would not have died for you if He had not loved you. Is your heart so hard that you can brace yourself against His love, and spurn and despise it? You cando it; but it will be at your peril.
I can imagine some saying to themselves: “Yes, we believe that God loves us, if we love Him; we believe that God loves the pure and the holy.” Let me say, my friends, not only does God love the pure and the holy: He also loves the ungodly. “God commendeth His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God sent Him to die for the sins of the whole world. If you belong to the world, then you have part and lot in this love that has been exhibited in the cross of Christ.
The Tenderness of Jesus
Ah, sinner, if you feel the loving touch of Jesus you will recognize it—it is so full of tenderness! The world may treat you unkindly; but Christ never will. You will never have a better Friend in this world. What you need is to come to day to Him. Let His loving arm be underneath you; let His loving hand be about you; and He will hold you with mighty power. He will keep you, and fill that heart of yours with His tenderness and love.
I can imagine some of you saying, “How shall I go to Him?” Why, just as you would go to your mother. Have you done your mother a great injury and a great wrong? If so, you go to her and you say: “Mother, I want you to forgive me.” Treat Christ in the same way. Go to Him today and tell Him that you have not loved Him, that you have not treated Him right; confess your sins, and see how quickly He will bless you.
A Pardon from Abraham Lincoln
I am reminded of another incident—that of a boy who had been tried by court-martial and ordered to be shot. The hearts of the father and mother were broken when they heard the news. In that home was a little girl. She had read the life of Abraham Lincoln, and she said: “Now, if Abraham Lincoln knew how my father and mother loved their boy, he would not let my brother be shot.” She wanted her father to go to Washing ton to plead for his boy. But the father said: “No, there is no use; the law must take its course. They have refused to pardon one or two who have been sentenced by that court-martial, and an order has gone forth that the President is not going to interfere again. If a man has been sentenced by court-martial he must suffer the consequences.”
That father and mother had not faith to believe that their boy might be pardoned. But the little girl was strong in hope.
She got on the train away up in Vermont, and started off to Washington. When she reached the White House the soldiers refused to let her in, but she told her pitiful story, and they allowed her to pass. When she got to the secretary’s room, where the President’s private secretary was, he refused to allow her to enter the private office of the President. But the little girl told her story, and it touched the heart of the private secretary; so he passed her in. As she went into Abraham Lincoln’s room, there were United States senators, generals, governors and leading politicians, who were there about important business about the war; but the President happened to see that child standing at his door. He wanted to know what she wanted, and she went right to him and told her story in her own language. He was a father, and the great tears trickled down Abraham Lincoln’s cheeks. He wrote a dispatch and sent it to the army to have that boy sent to Washington at once. When he arrived, the President pardoned him, gave him thirty days’ furlough, and sent him home with the little girl to cheer the hearts of the father and mother.
Do you want to know how to go to Christ? Go just as that little girl went to Abraham Lincoln. It may be possible that you have a dark story to tell. Tell it all out; keep nothing back. If Abraham Lincoln had compassion on that little girl, heard her petition and answered it, do you think the Lord Jesus will not hear your prayer? Do you think that Abraham Lincoln, or any man that ever lived on Earth, had as much compassion as Christ? No! He will be touched when no one else will; He will have mercy when no one else will; He will have pity when no one else will. If you will go right to Him, confessing your sin and your need, He will save you.
“He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love…His left hand is under my head and His right hand doth embrace me” (Song of Solomon 2:4, 6). Thank God, we can come under the banner today if we will. Any poor sinner can come under that banner today. His banner of love is over us. Blessed Gospel; blessed, precious news! Believe it today, receive it into your heart, and enter into a new life. Let the love of God be shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Ghost today. It will drive away darkness; it will drive away gloom. It will drive away sin, and peace and joy shall be yours.