Sunday, May 27, 2012

Six Words on Knowing the Love of God

My puritan hero Richard Sibbes preached a sermon called The Matchless Love and In-being from John 17 about what it means to live in the answer to Jesus' prayer that we be caught up, by the Spirit, into the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A prayer answered at Pentecost and every day as we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit - who makes us burst with the love of God.

The full sermon is in my edited volume The Sunshine of the Gospel and here's an extract:

 1. The Father loves Christ, because he is the first object of his love, his own image.
Christ represents God’s attributes, and whatever is good in him, in every way exactly. He is the Jedidiah, the beloved of the Lord. He is the true Isaac, the true matter of joy. He is the first Son, the first beloved.

2. After Christ, the Father loves all that are Christ’s with that love with which he loves Christ. 
There is love of God that gives us to Christ and now we speak of his love in our salvation. He loves Christ, and he loves us in Christ, and not otherwise.

Love moved him to give us to Christ. It must be such love and mercy, and so apprehended, as must be without offering violence or wrong to other attributes. His justice and his holiness must not be wronged.

Therefore though he loved those whom he knew before all worlds; yet in salvation to set his love upon them it must be in one who would make satisfaction for them, since they are sinners. God would have, in our salvation, the glory, as of infinite love to man, so of infinite hatred of sin, and likewise of infinite wisdom, in reconciling these together.

How could he show more his infinite hatred of sin? To punish sin his Son must become incarnate, to be a payment for sin and to take it away.

How could the Father show his infinite love more, than by giving such a gift as Christ, and his infinite wisdom, than to devise such a way as to bring these two together, justice and love, to reconcile them?

God loved those he foreknew to everlasting life, yet he intended in salvation to do it by showing his glory, that justice might fully be satisfied and especially that his mercy and love might triumph.

What in God stirred up a fatherly heart? What stirred him up to reconcile justice and mercy? His love! God loves us in Christ and only in Christ; because in Christ only his wrath is satisfied. Christ only is the mediator, the only treasury of the church to convey all to us. The adopted sons find their excellence, and all that they have, in the virtue of the natural Son.

3. The love of God to us is in Christ, loving us in him, as electing us, and doing all good to us in him.
This is the ground of all other favour and graces. He sets it here for us to see, ‘I have declared, etc., that the love with which you loved me may be in them,’ etc. What! Does he not say, that I might be merciful to them and pitiful, and that they may have other graces that love me? This is the spring of everything: ‘I have manifested your name,’ your gracious name, that in the apprehension of that they may find my love.

When we feel the love of God and of Christ, know that all other graces flow from this. All grace wrought in us begin with God’s love to us first. Pity and mercy and love come from God’s shining in our hearts first by his love that shapes and frames the heart to all duties and graces and to the first grace of love to God.

How can we love him unless we have an apprehension of his love first? You know iron, and stones, and things that are cold of nature, if they have any heat, we say it is the sun that has heated them, or the fire that has warmed them, because in themselves they have no heat.

Any goodness in the creature, any pity, mercy, or love to God, implies that there has been first the fire, the light of God's love to us. This love in them will be enough to set them on fire on all good things whatever. ‘We love him, because he loves us first,’ 1 John 4:19. We know him, because he knows us first, Gal 4:9, and we choose him, because he chooses us first. We joy and delight in him, because he joys and delights in us first.

Everything good we do is a reflex from him.

 4. This love of God to us may be known, and ought to be known of us. 
It may be known experientially and with an applied knowledge.

5. The way to know God's love to us, is the manifesting of his name in the gospel.
This follows from what has already been said.

 6. Christ being in us. 
We may know God’s love to us and we should labour to know it.  Not generally that he loves us, but that his love is in us, that it is incorporated and invested into us, so we can taste it and be sensitive of it. This is the goal of Christ’s prayer. How will we know this love? By the manifesting of God’s name by Christ. He is no hypocrite, he does not pray for something he will not work for.
The verse contains this blessed act of Christ.
1. What he has done: ‘I have declared your name’ 
2. What he will do: ‘and will declare it’ 
3. The end of it: ‘that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

Sibbes goes on to define faith as apprehending the love of God in Christ. Faith is what happens when our hearts see the love of God in Christ. As the church father's delighted to say, we become God - entering into the relationships of the Father, Son and Spirit. We participate in the divine nature, we're caught up into their life by virtue of our union with Christ. So, Christ' prays. So, let us expect.


  1. Sunshine indeed! A timely appearance of the heavenly doctor, Bish! Great job.

  2. Thanks James. Seemed appropriate to the occasion, and always worth feeling the warmth.