From Sermons by Hugh Ross Mackintosh (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1938).
BELOVED OF THE FATHER
THE LOVER OF US
"As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you."— St. John 15:9
FIFTY years ago, and indeed much nearer our own day, discussion went on constantly regarding the Divinity of Christ. People raised the question: Is Christ one with God, is His nature the same as the Father's? That was a vital problem, and will always remain so; but you will observe that it assumed that we knew beforehand what God is like, and could compare Jesus with Him, and thereupon decide whether Jesus corresponded to the Divine nature as we knew it. I think it is fairly accurate to say that just at present people are chiefly concerned not about the question whether Jesus is the same as God, but rather the question whether God is the same as Jesus. You see, they have turned the problem round and are looking at it from the other end. They say, we know what Christ was like, for we can read about Him in the Gospels; is God's character of the same kind? Can we argue confidently from the one to the other? Can I take the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, as He lived among men and for men, and say to the perplexed, or to my own heart when it is troubled: There, that is what you can rely on at the very heart of the universe? God is exactly like Jesus, and as Dr. A. B. Bruce once said: "If God is like Jesus, this world has reason to be glad."
The best way to answer that question clearly is to discover, if we can, what Jesus believed regarding it. And in our text He makes that plain. He tells us that His love for us is identical with God's love for Him. The two resemble one another precisely, part to part, like a die and its impression. To understand the heart of God Almighty, we have to contemplate Jesus. Study the historical picture, the Divine Man of Nazareth, then lift up your soul and your imagination and let them wander through eternity, and up to the unapproachable heights of the Divine, and everywhere in the Unseen Ineffable Power that girds our lives by faith you can see the traits of your Saviour's nature. In Paradise Lost the Angel asks:
Be but the shadow of Heaven, and things therein
Each to other like, more than on Earth is thought!"
And Jesus is here employing the same argument. He says to the disciples: "I have been beside you all these months. You have learnt to know Me, you have seen that I have you constantly in My heart. You are never out of My mind. That love is a copy of the love I Myself have had from God. He loves as I have loved—you can rest your troubled hearts on that."
Let us follow this up. Obviously if we want to realise what God's love means, the best thing we can do is to examine the love of Jesus, and then carry over what we find. Therefore I want quite briefly, and without any sort of elaboration, to speak of Christ's love, its qualities and active characteristics, always with the consciousness in the back of our minds that He is, as it were, the looking-glass in which we see God. That great principle can never now be repealed: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father."
1. The love of Jesus has no thought of self. He cared for men and drew them round Him, not for any gain to Himself but solely for their good. Uninstructed writers have called Jesus absurd or fanatical; no one so far as I know has ever called Him selfish. The moral cynic who questioned whether totally selfless love anywhere existed, in man or woman, would at least be awed and silenced before Him. He does not love for His own sake but for ours. Now and then some wonderful human act of self-forgetfulness comes along of which we say to ourselves: "Jesus Christ was like that, only better." When the steamship General Slocum was burned some years ago in New York harbour, a lad who was picked up said: "My mother gave me a lifebelt, that's how I got saved. I guess she didn't have one for herself, because they can't find her." We mount on the stepping-stone of such devotion and from it we catch a glimpse of the still loftier love of Jesus Christ.
When in this unselfishness He gave Himself for us all, what were the objects of His kindness like? Largely the poor, the ignorant, the unfortunate; people thought to have nothing in them, and for whom no man cared. And in their presence Jesus longed not to get but to give. The merchant says to the world quite naturally: "Come to me and buy my goods and pay me the price of them." The orator says: "Come to me and furnish an audience for my powers of appeal and argument." The soldier says: "Come to me and enlist in the armies that will bear my name to renown." Jesus called to Him all those that labour and are heavy-laden with the simple promise: " Come to Me and I will give—I will give you rest."
As we all know, the response of men to this unselfish love was a terrible chapter in our history as a race. From His human brethren Jesus did not even obtain a place to lay His head. Instead, He received insult for honour, thorns for a crown, desertion for loyalty, a borrowed grave for resting-place, a cross for throne. You would have said the whole series of events must kill out religious faith once for all; for how could men continue to believe in the Divine and fatherly government of a world where the holiest life ever seen upon the planet was suffered to sink in shame? And yet what happened was the very opposite. Through the shame and loving sacrifices of Jesus eyes that hitherto had been blind to God's pity opened to it; they saw God's love now for the first time, and they made the response of faith.
The purely disinterested love of Jesus speaks to us of this truth, then, that while in one sense God might seem to have no need of us, since we can add nothing to His glory and His power, yet in a far deeper sense He does need us, and in His longing is prepared to go all lengths to reach and win the guilty. We are dealing with a love that does not wait to calculate the return upon its capital before flinging its riches wide upon the needy. We love, because He first loved us. "God loves to be longed for, He loves to be sought, for He sought us Himself with such longing and love."
2. Then again, the love of Jesus was perfectly clear-sighted. There is a proverb that love is blind; the uglinesses and deformities in its object escape its notice. That may be true often enough of poor, reckless human passion, wilfully prone to self-deception; but it has no application to the Saviour. He saw men as they were, all the wrappings and concealments torn away; He saw their pettiness, and pitifulness, and disgrace, as He sees ours. For Him there was no need that any one should testify what is in man's heart; He read it like an open book. How terrible is that passing, almost casual, phrase in one of His most familiar sayings: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children." The mistakes of His followers, their coarsely selfish thoughts, their falls, their flight—He knew them all, and yet He loved them. Is it no consolation for us who have faced our own unworthiness to know that Divine love can stand even that trial and not fail?
At first it is a nearly insupportable idea that God knows everything about us, the secret motives and hidden imaginations we huddle up even from our own view. "Thou God seest me" sounds like an unbearable menace. Can He see us, we feel, can He see us as we are, and at the same time love us? Yes, He can, is the absolutely certain reply, for that exactly is what Jesus did. He knew all about the publicans and sinners, yet He took them by the hand, and looked into their eyes, and gave them the sure knowledge that He was not ashamed to be their friend. He saw what was troubling the paralytic that day in Capernaum, and right at the start, before the man had time to ask for it, He exclaimed with anticipating love, "Son, thy sins are forgiven." He was perfectly aware that Peter had denied his discipleship with oaths, yet He looked back at him with strong and patient tenderness that brought tears to the man's eyes. I want and need a love like that, when I am facing my own life, and remembering what I have done; do not you? In the proper kind of home children know after wrong-doing that the loving mother does not stand over them as a task-master or a judge, that she opens her arms as soon as they long to return to her bosom, and that to be at peace with her changes everything. They know that when penitent they are not kept waiting, or put on probation, but accepted just as they are. And when the penetrating omniscience of God goes down into our most private inner life, and we feel its scalpel dividing asunder the very joints and marrow, is there anything which gives comfort, or inspires hope, except this additional and surpassing truth that along with that unerring insight goes a love that bears all things, and at its own cost receives us just as we are?
3. Or again, think of the faithfulness of Jesus' love. When St. John is going to tell how the Redeemer knelt down beside disciples who had been quarrelling about honours and precedence half an hour before, and washed and wiped their feet, he introduces the action with the words: "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Unto the end—there was nothing He would not endure, there was no length He would not go. As Shakespeare put it in a sonnet:
is not love
which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove."
Without faithfulness, love is a broken reed that pierces the leaning hand. Little importance can be ascribed to the attachment that exhausts itself in declarations of sentiment, but cools and drops away at the first sign of danger or privation. The regard of fair-weather friends who scurry back to harbour instantly when a cloud appears in the sky, and there and then abandon the voyage in our company, we soon learn to reckon at its true value; but the wound of unfaithfulness goes very deep. Nothing satisfies except what will last "unto the end." Well, Jesus persevered in loving men. He stood in with sinners to the last; even when the Cross came into it finally, and He had to ascend and stretch His arms on its cruel beams and die, He did not draw back or refuse the price. The love with which He loved was faithful. No gulf it could not bridge—not sin, or time, or death. "He would die for you again."
That faithfulness of Jesus' love is the faithfulness of God. It is a sure, eternal refuge; it spreads its shelter above our heads in the tempests of the soul and all stormy mutations of the world; we have a sanctuary there, like eaglets nestling under the pinions of the mother bird. Do you recall that moving sentence in the Marriage Service, often skimmed lightly in the joy of the moment, but with its own pathetic suggestiveness—where in the mutual promise of fidelity it is added: " Till death us do part"? They two will be faithful unto death; then comes parting. But when God attaches the human heart to Himself by bonds of love and promise, when that Holy Love reveals its grace to the guilty soul, it is for ever and ever. It spans the grave, it takes the sting from death. That love of the Father stands unaffected by time. It belongs to that high region where rests the Unchangeable, far above the varied phases of the fleeting moments which we call past, present, and future. These are but the lower layer of clouds which drive before the wind, and melt from shape to shape. He dwells above in the clear, changeless blue.
4. Once more, Christ's is a purifying love. It makes an unqualified demand for personal goodness. Every one knows there is a fond and foolish affection into which parents or acquaintances may fall, that enfeebles and degrades. Its object is to spare the person doted on every sort of pain, every encounter with the rough hardships of life; with the result that the child comes out of this weakening treatment backboneless and soft, a creature of neither will nor power. False tenderness has poured the poison of self-pity into his veins. There is nothing more conspicuous in the love of Jesus than its antagonism to all such foolishness of attitude.
Are not some of His most memorable sayings designed, as it were, to correct the mistaken thought that love on His part leant to weakness or over-indulgence? He speaks of the narrow way we must tread, the strait gate we must pass through, leaving much outside we should like to carry with us, but which its exactingness will not permit to pass. He speaks of the bitter cup that, like Him and strengthened by Him, we must drink. He speaks of the dread cross which we must take up, and carry behind Him. No soft lenity there! No compromising with the low powers of would-be disciples!
One of the temptations of human love is to flatter the weakness of those for whom it feels a tenderness; but we search the Gospel pages in vain for one occasion on which Jesus bent to this allurement. There was the rich young ruler, who came to Him with eager question, and two companion items above all remain in our memory from that interview—first, that Jesus looked at him and loved him; and second, that He spoke to him the tremendous requirement: "Sell all that thou hast, and come follow Me." That was a stringent love, a love that insisted on things being given up, on the right hand being cut off and the right eye plucked out.
God's love, like the love of Christ, is a bracing and exacting thing. It cannot bear the stain of mire upon its objects, but must have them undefiled. And yet all the time it is waiting to unveil to us the blessedness of sacrifice and self-conquest, for the renunciations asked of us are not ends in themselves; they are preparations for His fuller possession of our lives. If the demands of His holiness are high, the greatness of His love enables us more and more to rise up and meet them. It is simple truth to say that nothing has given men so deep a sense of their own sinfulness, or such holy energy in resisting it, as Christ's forgiving love.
5. Lastly, the love of Jesus, while it embraces multitudes, gives all its fulness to the individual heart. It is for all of us and it is for each of us. That glorious love, after all creatures have received of it, is as overflowing as at the beginning, and as near to you and me as it was to the first disciples. His love comprehends the world, that is the first aspect. There beats in it the heart of the great High Priest of mankind. The barriers and separations that for ages had shut off men from their brethren go down before the rising tide of His goodwill, and on their faith and penitence He welcomes equally the stranger and the Jew, the ignorant and the learned, the sinner and the Pharisee, the poor and the rich. He can feel for one and all; He can die for one and all. He has an especial tenderness for the great company of the neglected and forsaken, to whom no man gives a thought.
And yet this comprehensive love, that puts its arms round our whole race, can so narrow and as it were condense itself as to bless and gladden the single needy life. Many times, as some of us may know to our loss, the windy and viewy generalisations of sentimental emotion are accompanied by strange cruelty to individuals, as in the case of the Russian lady, in the old days, who wept in the theatre over the staged sorrows of humanity, while her coachman froze to death on the pavement outside. But Jesus loved both man and men. "When He was here on earth, the multitude thronged Him and pressed Him, but the wasted forefinger of one poor timid woman could reach the garment's hem for all the crowd." Great and small meet under the shelter of that grace. When the rising sun reddens the sky and wakes the sleeping earth, it is not only the lofty mountain peaks that greet its coming and grow radiant with its beams; in the valleys too, at their feet, the tiniest flower opens its cup to receive the light and warmth. So the love of Jesus bends down to every one of us, in our felt insignificance, in our lonely sorrows, and comforts each by His presence as though there were none other in the world. We can turn the collective nouns into personal pronouns, and He asks us to do it. We can not only declare, He loved the world, but also, He loved me and gave Himself for me. We begin to have faith when we put our own name into His invitations and His promises. And the cup of His atoning and personal love is for us all the fuller that it has been held to the thirsty lips of uncounted generations. "All souls are mine."
We have been contemplating together the love of Jesus Christ, as it stands there for all to see on the page of the evangelist. We have gazed at some of its different meanings, as we might at the facets of some precious jewel. That love is the great reality of history. And the heart of the Gospel is this, that Jesus' redeeming love is the love of God Himself. It sounds incredible, but in fact it is too good not to be true. "As the Father has loved, so have I loved." Will you believe that, and let it unseal the springs of gratitude within you? Will you lay it down as the foundation-stone of all your thinking and feeling and doing that God is love as Jesus Christ was love, and that the purpose of it all is to unlock the fetters of our selfishness, and give us freedom and peace and strength in unity with God? Will you open your nature to the voice that, it might be, is even now speaking in your heart? "Son, daughter, thou art ever with Me, and all that I have is thine."