How Does God Love?

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 6
THE love of God may be viewed in three distinct aspects. First, the love of compassion; second, the love of complacency; and, third, the love of communion. Or, first, the love of God to the sinner; second, the love of God to the saint; and, third, the love of God to the saint who acts obediently.
First, God loves the sinner! Wondrous fact. And for the knowledge of this fact we are indebted to the New Testament. In the Old we find God dealing in mercy, doubtless; for how could He deal with any child of Adam, at any time, save on the ground of mercy? But in the Old Testament man was under trial—not yet treated as formally last—and he had to learn, through God's varied ways, that his condition was utterly hopeless.
But if, in the Old Testament, the full character of man was not divulged, neither was that of God. Both are declared fully in the New—the total depravity of man—the absolute love of God.
“If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost" (2 Cor. 4:33But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: (2 Corinthians 4:3)); and also "God is love." (1 John 4.)
Take for the illustration of each of these facts the case of the prodigal—for therein the gospel is beautifully pictured. The condition of the man is "lost and dead." He had displayed enmity to his father, and had I gone as far as sin could take him. Brought to destitution, he repents, and, yet in misery, he returns to his father. Now, what was the result? What was the father's conduct towards him? He saw him—had compassion—ran—fell on his neck and kissed him! A more exquisite concurrence of guilt on the one hand and grace on the other was never painted. It is absolutely inimitable, but as absolutely true. The sinner—for such was the prodigal—comes to the Father in the confession of his irretrievable ruin; he is met in that condition by the richest expression of the Father's love. Words fail to describe the scene. Yet that scene is painted by the Master's hand in surpassing beauty, grand in its simplicity, fascinating in its accuracy, and surprising in its peculiarity. Oh! who but God Himself could thus delineate His own compassion?
That compassion, observe, was sovereign. There was naught in the prodigal to call it forth—it was spontaneous. It originated and had its source in the father's heart. It was not kindled, nor brought into existence by anything in the prodigal. Its secret is found in the three precious words, "God is love." That being so the effect is natural. Love takes its own course. And so, when we turn from illustration to doctrine, we find that "God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins!" God loved us when we were dead in sins. Do you ask why?—how can this be? How can a holy God love those who are "dead in sins"? Can He love sin? Can He tolerate its faintest breath? Is He not pledged by that very holiness—by the fact that “God is light to judge it—to express His eternal abhorrence of it in the persons of those—men or angels—who have finally offended against Him? Yes, all perfectly true. But the reason of His love for the sinner is simply and only found in the fact that "God is love," and that is enough. It explains all His tender dealings with us. It reminds us that He "so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It settles the deepest and most perplexing soul-question that can be raised. Oh! when the poor guilty soul discovers for the first time that, spite of all demerit, he is an object of God's love, he fears no more, he ventures, confides, rests, he is satisfied.
And, dear reader, if you have for years lived in darkness and misery, dreading the day when, perforce, you must meet your unknown God, let me persuade you that He is love, that He gave His Son to prove it, that He wishes your salvation, and that even you are welcome. For this love toward a guilty world is one of deep compassion.
Second, God loves the saint. Here we have the love of relationship, for the term saint, so unhappily misunderstood, simply means a child of God. The moment a soul believes in Christ he becomes a saint; he has not to wait until he reaches glory, or is enrolled in the calendar, but just when he becomes a true Christian he is a saint.
Hence we find epistles addressed to the "saints in Christ Jesus"—inhabitants of some city, performing daily the necessary duties of life. Whoever is set apart in Christ is a saint. It is the relationship into which faith brings the soul. A saint is a child of God, and every child of God is a saint. Let this fact be clearly grasped. What the conduct and marks of such should be we will consider presently. But when God takes up a prodigal He not only shows him compassion; His love goes further still, He invests him in a robe, gives him a ring and sandals. This investiture creates him a saint. The robe declares him justified; the ring betokens relationship; and the sandals for his feet indicate a new kind of walk. But thus clad, he is a saint. It is no question of the amount of his faith, nor of the height of his attainment. He must be a saint before he can think of attaining.
Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, the poor sinner enters upon a new relation with God. He stands forthwith in His favor. The love of God is shed abroad in his heart. He is a child of God. God finds pleasure in him by virtue, not necessarily of what affords pleasure in such an one, but of the fact of relationship.
A parent loves his child, has pleasure in him, finds a source of interest and delight in him that he can find in no other children. This relationship implies complacency. You might show compassion to the beggar boy who cringes at your door, but delight in him you have not. Why? Because he is not yours. Grant the relationship and you admit the pleasure. Hence, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." Again, "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children unto Himself by Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will." It was His good pleasure that we should be in that relation. It is the love of complacency.
Third, God loves the obedient saint. This is the love that a father feels for a child who is dutiful, obedient, respectful—one to whom the father's will is supreme, and who, at all cost, seeks the accomplishment of this. The relation is just the same; but has a father equal confidence in all his children? Can he communicate with equal frankness the same secret to all? Nay, community of interest with the father is not the portion of all alike. It is not want of fatherly affection, nor is it partiality, but it is a question of confidence—of communion.
Take the case of Abraham and Lot. Both were saints, the love of relationship was alike in each instance, but God said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" And "that thing," notice, was the destruction of the city where Lot lived. Yet Lot was not the vessel of communication. Why this preference? Because Abraham had community of thought with God, while Lot's interests lay in Sodom. Solemn truth! Now, obedience to God leads to this exalted privilege; disobedience, disqualifies and unfits the soul for it. How can there be community of thought or interest with God when His Spirit is grieved? Impossible. And, be assured, that the lack of spiritual intelligence in the word of God, so widely and sadly manifest, is attributable to lack of obedience. Meet a saint whose constant desire and effort is to obey God, to carry out His word, to test all His ways in the world or in the church by that word, and you find one who, in his measure, has communion with God. Obedience is always the test. "To obey is better than sacrifice." Oh! were this principle of unquestioning obedience but in graven in our souls, how different would be the state of the church of God! It is a day of great activity, but withal is it one of obedience? Activity may make much of the vessel outwardly, but obedience may and does humble and crush, yet this vessel alone is meet for the Master's use.
In Deut. 7 we find both the love of complacency and that of communion. Thus in verse 8, "The Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers,"—and, then in verse 12, "If ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them... He will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee." The first is according to His oath to the fathers, and absolute; the second is contingent upon obedience, "if ye do." The same principle is found in John 14:2121He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21), "He that loveth me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him.”
This is the love of communion. As Christians we all stand on one common platform, and in one blessed relationship. Thank God, that is settled, and perfect, and the heart can always turn back to it; but how deeply important to cultivate by obedience to Him a spirit of communion with Him, for our own joy, and His glory in us. J. W. S.