By George H. Morrison
"God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8.
In our text we are brought face to face with the Cross of Calvary, and we see that Cross standing in a light that glorifies it. That great transaction on Calvary may be viewed in many aspects, but perhaps the aspect in our text is the most sublime of all.
Just as the Cross itself, which stood upon the hill, was touched with new and ever-varying glories, as the lights and shadows of the setting sun lingered for a moment on its bars, so to the eye of faith new glories fall upon the Crucifixion, under the light of a Sun that never sets. When God sends forth His light we see the Cross as the master work of grace. We see the Cross as the gateway into peace. We see the Cross as the type of self-denial. Over and above all that we see the Cross as the one triumphant argument for the love of God. "God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8).
What is it to commend? It is far more than to recommend. It is to exhibit, to demonstrate, to prove. This, then, must textually be our theme to-day, the Cross of Calvary viewed as the unanswerable proof of the love of God. First, I shall ask the need that this love should be commended thus. And, secondly, the nature of the love that is thus commended.
I. Firstly - The need that the love of God should be commended thus.
There are some attributes of God that need no proof. Some features of the Divine character there are, so universally conspicuous as to be self-evidencing. Think, for example, of God's power. If we believe in God at all we need no argument to convince us of His power. The mighty forces that engirdle us all cry aloud of that. The chambers of the deep, the chariot of the sun, are stamped with it. The devastating march of winter's storm, and, none the less, the timely calling of all the summer's beauty out of the bare earth, these things, and a thousand other things like these, teach us the power of God. We would not need the Cross if all that had to be proved was the Divine omnipotence.
Or take the wisdom of God. Is any argument needed to assure us in general of that? None. "Day unto day uttereth speech of it, and night unto night showeth forth its glory" (Psa. 19:2). Our bodies, so fearfully and so wonderfully made; our senses, linking us so strangely to the world without; our thought, so swift, so incomprehensible; and all the constancy of Nature, and all the harmony of part with part, and all the obedience of the starry worlds, and all the perfections of the wayside weed; these things, and a multitude of things like these, speak to the thinking mind of the wisdom of the God with whom we have to do. That wisdom needs no formal proof. It is self-evidencing. We would not need the Cross if all that had to be proved was the wisdom of God.
Now, brethren, there are not a few who think that the love of God is like His wisdom and His power. Perhaps I should not say they think it; for such a view was never held by a thinking mind. It would be more true, if I said that there are multitudes who vaguely hold that God is love, and never dream that such a statement calls for some strong argument to prove it. I wish to tell you that that is not the Bible standpoint. I wish to tell you that a shallow optimism like that must ever be rejected by the thinker. The love of God is not self-evident. It is not stamped upon creation like His power. It is not written on the nightly heavens like His wisdom. Nay, on the contrary, if it be a fact, it is a fact against which a thousand other facts are fighting. And if in that love I am to believe, some proof of it, some argument I must have, strong enough to put these thousand militating facts to flight.
Let me mention one or two of these things that have made it hard for men to believe in the love of God. One is the tremendous struggle for existence that is ceaselessly waged among all living things. Man fights with man, and beast with beast; bird fights with bird, and fish with fish. To the seeing eye the world is all a battlefield, and every living creature in it is in arms, and fighting for its life.
The watchword of Nature is not peace, but war. The calmest summer evening, to him who knows old Nature's story, is only calm as the battlefield is calm where multitudes lie dead. Under that outward peace which oftentimes, like a mantle seems to enwrap the world, by night and day, on sea and land, the bloodiest of wars is being waged. Creature, merciless and venomous, preys upon creature. For right to live, for room to grow, for food to eat, in grim and fearful silence the awful war goes on.
Sir, can you wonder that men who have known all that, and nothing more than that, have ceased to believe in the love of God? Can you marvel that he who has no other argument for God's love than what Nature gives him, rejects as mockery the thought of the Divine compassion? Nature groaning and travailing in pain together (Rom. 8:22) seems to cry out against the love of God. And in the hearing of these groans, clearer to us to-day than in any past age, only an argument of overwhelming force will convince the heart that God is love.
Or think again. There are the problems of human pain and sorrow and bereavement. Is it not very hard to reconcile these darker shadows with the light of heavenly love? What is the meaning of that suffering that seemed to fall so causelessly on her you loved? Can God be love, and never move a finger to ease your little child when he is screaming day and night in fearful agony? Ah! sir, you have had such thoughts as that. Confess them. When in the sudden squall the flower of our fishermen are drowned; when from your arms your dearest joy is torn away; when those who would not harm a living creature are bowed for years under intolerable pain, and when the wicked or the coarse seem to get all they wish, who has not cried, "Can God be love if He permits all this? How can God say He loves me, and yet deal with me as I could never have the heart to deal with one I loved?"
Brethren, it is such facts as these that make it so hard for many to credit the love of God. It is the experiences of which these are but a sample that call for some unanswerable proof if we are to believe that God is love. And it is that proof which is afforded us in the Crucifixion of Christ Jesus. "God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8) The one triumphant argument for the love of God is seen in the Cross of Jesus.
The story of Nature may seem to tell against this truth that every heart hungers to believe. And the experiences of life may often seem to fight against it too. But as we read the story of that atoning death, all doubts are overborne. Nothing but love, love wonderful, love matchless, will explain the Cross.
When we have gazed in faith upon the Cross of Christ, we never can seriously doubt the love of God again. I do not mean that difficulties vanish. I do not say that problems disappear. Much that was dark before remains dark still; but now we bow the head and say we know in part, and with patience wait to be satisfied in the morning. We can be ignorant and dark and even fretful still, but we can never doubt the love of God again. For with overwhelming power God has convinced us of His love, "in that while we are yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Again, observe that this great proof of God's love is a fact and not a word or theory. Love must be proved by deeds and not by words. The loudest protestations may be empty. No mere profession of the lip will ever satisfy the heart that longs to know another's love. Love's argument is service. Love's commendation lies in sacrifice. The self-forgetful service of the lover wins, as the warmest passion never would. And the proof of deeds is needed above all, when by the proof of deeds love seems disproved. If you or I by any act suspect that we are hated, it is not any word, however warm, will ever blot that suspicion out. It is only some deed of love, clear, unmistakable, that will have power to do that.
See, then, the wisdom of our God. It is the facts of nature and of life, of history and of experience, that make it so hard to believe His love. He knows it all, and so the proof He offers of His love is a fact too. Facts must be met by facts. And all the dark facts in the world's story. God overwhelms by the great fact of Calvary. Yes, God so loved the world, not that He said or thought, but that He gave. Thanks be to Him for that.
I read the loving promises in many of the prophets. I read the passionate language of the bridegroom in the Song of Songs. And all the time this doubting heart keeps whispering, "These are but words; these are but words." Come, thank thy God, my heart, that not in these alone, not in these chiefly, He has commended His love to thee.
And now I turn to the atoning death of Jesus on the Cross. Here is no word. Here is no empty protestation. Here is a deed tremendous, matchless, irresistible, and every opposing argument is silenced. Looking at Calvary I hear the Lord say, "Come, let us reason together, do I not love thee? "Yes, Lord, I have reasoned with Thee. I have marshalled all my arguments and all my facts, and I am here to confess to-day that by the fact of Calvary Thou hast won."
One other word before I leave this aspect of the case. I want you to observe that this proof is one of perpetual validity. The Bible does not say, God commended, it does not say, God has commended; it uses the perpetual present and says, God commendeth. There are some proofs for the being and attributes of God that serve their purpose, and then pass away. There are arguments that appeal to us in childhood, but lose their power in our maturer years. And there are proofs that may convince one generation, and yet be of little value to the next. Not a few evidences, such as that from design, which were very helpful to you, believer of an older school, are well-nigh worthless to your thinking son, imbued with the teaching of the present day.
But there is one argument that stands unshaken through every age and every generation. It is the triumphant argument of the Cross of Christ. Knowledge may widen, thought may deepen, theories may come and go; yet in the very center, unshaken and unshakable, stands Calvary, the lasting commendation of the love of God. To all the sorrowing and to all the doubting, to all the bitter and to all the eager, to every youthful heart, noble and generous, to every weary heart, burdened and dark, to-day and here, as 1900 years ago to all like hearts in Rome, "God commendeth His love, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."
II. What is the nature of the love that is commended thus.
"God commendeth His own love to us," so the text reads. What is the love, then, that is commended so? And here we must be textual. Wide as the Bible is the subject. All we can hope to find to-day is what the text tells us of this love.
Like life, love is of many kinds. There is a love that ennobles and casts a radiance upon life. There is a love that drags the lover down into the mouth of hell. There is a love that many waters cannot quench. There is a love that is disguised lust. What kind of love then is God's love proved to be from His commendation of it?
And first, splendidly visible is this, it is a love that thought no sacrifice too great. The surest test of love is sacrifice. We measure love, as we should measure her twin-brother life, "by loss and not by gain, not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth." Look at the mother with her child. She sacrifices ease and sleep, and she would sacrifice life too for her little one, and she thinks nothing of it all, she loves her baby so. Think of the patriot and his country. He counts it joy to drain his dearest veins, he loves his land so well. Recall the scholar at his books. Amusements, intercourse and sleep, he almost spurns them. His love for learning is so deep he hardly counts them loss. Yes, in the willingness to sacrifice all that is dearest lies the measure of the noblest love.
Turn now to Calvary, turn to the Cross, and by the sight of the crucified Redeemer there, begin to learn the greatness of God's love. Come, who is this that hangs between two thieves with pierced hands and feet? And who is this whose back is wealed with scars, whose face is fouled with spittle? Yes, who is this the passers-by are mocking? See, He is sorrowful even unto death. Hark, He cries, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46)
Wonder, O heavens, and be amazed, O earth, this is none other than God's only begotten Son. Did ever mother, did ever patriot, did ever human lover in the zeal of love make any sacrifice to be compared with that of God, when He gave His only begotten Son to shame and death that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish?
Ah! sir, measuring the love of God by such a test as this, we touch its height and depth and length and breadth, and then do we not cry out with Paul, "It passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:19).
Again, I look at the love of God that our text speaks of, and now I see it is a love that never sprang from the sight of anything lovable in us. I suppose in this gathering to-day we have many loveless hearts. There are dead souls within this house of God to-day, all whose affections are slain. And yet I am sure of this, that in all this company there is not one heart but once has loved. Father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife, once, if not now, you loved them. They were your heart's desire, to them your souls were knit.
Well, then, I want you now to recall that love again. I want you to try and trace it to its source. I want you to tell me whence it sprang. Was it the natural outflow of your heart, the welling-over of your nature regardless of the person loved? Or was it not rather some excellence, or worth, or beauty, some charm that made an indefinable appeal, that caught and held the tendrils of your heart? Yes, it was that. It was all you saw, and all you knew, and all you conjured, that drew your love out. You loved and you loved only, because you found those worthy to be loved.
And it is just here that, wide as the poles, God's love stands separated from all the love of men. "God commendeth His love, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." God longs to love me into something lovable. But not for anything lovable in me did He love me first. While I was yet a sinner He loved me. While I hated Him He loved me. While I was fighting against Him in the rebellious years He loved me. If we love Him, it is because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Such causeless love is wonderful, passing the love of women.
Again I turn to the love of God our text speaks of, and now I see it is a love splendid in its righteousness. Some of the saddest tragedies in human life spring from the moral weakness of the deepest love. Love is the mother of all tenderness, and tenderness shrinks instinctively from what is stern or rigorous. So love, from the excess of her fairest grace, often becomes the minister of ruin. How many a mother who would have laid her life down for her son, she loved him so, has only helped him down the road to ruin by the immoral weakness of her love. How many a father, to spare his own heart the bitter agony of punishing his child, has let his child grow up unchastened. Such love as that is fatal. Sooner or later it tarnishes the thought of fatherhood in the child's eyes. For in his views of fatherhood the child can find no place now for earnest hatred of the wrong, and passionate devotion to the right; and so the image of fatherhood is robbed of all its powers.
Brethren, I do not hesitate to say, that if out of the page of history you wipe the atoning death on Calvary, you carry that tragedy of weakness into the very heavens. Blot out the Cross and I, a child of heaven, can never be uplifted and inspired by the thought of the Divine Fatherhood again. Yes, I have sinned, and know it. I deserve chastisement, and know it. And shall my Father never whisper a word of punishment? and never breathe His horror at my fall? And will He love me, and be kind to me right through it all without a word of warning? I tell you the moment I would believe that, the glory of the Divine Fatherhood is tarnished for me; God's perfect love of goodness and awful hatred of the wrong are dimmed; and all the impulse and enthusiasm these divine passions bring sink out of my life for ever.
But when I turn to Calvary, and to that awful death I see a love as righteous as it is wonderful. Sin must be punished, although the Well-beloved has to die. And the divine anger at iniquity must be revealed, though the curse fall upon the Son of God. The awful sight of that atoning death assures me of the perfect righteousness of God in the very moment that it assures me of His love. I see the divine hatred of iniquity; I see the divine need that sin be punished; I see the divine sanction of everlasting law in the very glance that commends to me the everlasting love.
And now with renewed trust I cast myself into the arms of that heavenly love. With heart and soul and strength and mind I accept it as it is commended to me upon the Cross. I live rejoicing in the Fatherhood of God. I go to every task and every trial assured of this, that neither height, nor depth, nor life nor death, nor any other creature can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, my Lord. (Romans 8:39). Amen.
Sermon preached by George H. Morrison, Glasgow, Scotland, 1920