The Love of God
F.B. Srygley (1859-1940)
I have been requested to write something on the above subject not because the one who made the request thought he did not understand the subject, but because he thought others needed to know more about the love of God and because it would do me good to write on the subject. The brother may be right in both these reasons, and, therefore, I will do my best for his benefit and mine.
The expression, "the love of God," may be used in two senses -- (1) the love that God has for mankind and for his children, and (2) the love that man and God's children should have for God. In the former sense "the love of God" is found in Romans 8:38,39: "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." This passage evidently means not our love for God, but God's love for us. No one of the things mentioned, nor all of them, can cause God to cease loving his children. This passage does not say that a child of God cannot cease to love God, neither does it mean this. God's children have ceased to love him in the past, and they may do so in the future. They should not have done so in the past, and they should not do so in the future. God's people can become so neglectful of God as to actually forget him. "Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number" (Jer. 2:32).
While the passage first quoted does not say that a Christian cannot separate himself from the love of God, yet if he could not, this fact would not prove that God would save him for many that God loves will be lost. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life" On. 3:16). If some one is not lost whom God loves, then no one will be lost, for God loves the world -- all mankind. This passage leads us to another fact, and that is that the love of God for man did not benefit man till it had manifested itself in an act of love. The act of love here was sending his Son into the world that the world through him might be saved. If the love of God had not taken the form of an act, it could not have benefited the object of love. It was the love of God for man that caused him to send his Son and all the Son did for man's salvation was a manifestation or an expression of the love of God for man. "Herein was the love of God manifested in us ["In our case"], that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him" (I Jn. 4:9).
Since God has manifested his love to the world in giving Jesus to die for the human family, man should manifest his love to God by accepting Christ in obedience to his truth. I am unable to see why any one should claim to love God or to be benefited by the love of God while knowingly living in disobedience to the gospel. Some seem to think that they really love God while rejecting his word. A lawyer asked Jesus, "Which is the great commandment in the law?" and his answer was: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth and the prophets" (Matt. 22:36-40). In a very important sense the gospel also hangs upon these two commandments. The one who loves God as he should will obey him if he knows what he commands him to do; and if he does not know what he commands him to do, he will not stop till he learns what the will of the Lord is; and likewise the one who loves his neighbor as he should will treat his neighbor right and will thus discharge his duty to his neighbor and to himself. Therefore, the gospel as well as the law hangs upon these two commandments.
Love for God and for mankind is not simply a sentiment or a feeling, but a principle which leads one to discharge his duty to God and to his fellow man. Simply talking love and preaching and writing about love does not fulfill the demands of love. "Let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth" (1 Jn. 3:18). Loving in word and with the tongue means talking about love, preaching about love, and writing about love, which is not wrong unless our love for our fellow man stops here. To love "in deed" means to love by doing a good deed, and to love in "truth" means to love in reality. "Whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how cloth the love of God abide in him?" (v. 17) Not only do we love our fellow man by being faithful to him but by not doing so we prove that we do not love God.
I have never been able to understand why it is that so many men, when they go to preaching on love, seem to think that they ought to oppose controversy and debating as though all discussion over religious questions were opposed to love for God and man. I know that Paul loved God and man, yet he frankly, freely, and fully preached man's duty, and was constantly engaged in debate or discussion. He loved his kindred after the flesh, the Jews; but he never failed to contend with them for the right. I know that Stephen understood the question of love, and yet he lost his life because he contended with the Jews over their doctrine and pointed out their errors to them. The apostles and evangelists of the early church certainly understood this question, and yet they went to and fro over the country debating and discussing with the sectarian Jews.
Frequently at this day when men preach on the love of God and man, instead of sticking to the subject they feel that is necessary to oppose faithfulness in contending for the truth. When did any one learn that a Christian loves his fellow man when he is not anxious to show him his error? If one proves that the love of God is not in him by with-holding bread from the needy, does he not also show that that love of God is not in him when he withholds from his fellow man the bread of life? I dislike to see gospel preachers catering to this sickly sentimentalism which will not allow a man the right to preach the full gospel freely, even to the point of controversy when it is necessary.
Perhaps I can do not better just here than quote from David Lipscomb:
I have noticed it in men, I have noticed it in papers. When one starts out to be over-sweet-tempered, to keep out all humanity, he or it becomes one-sided, unfair, and the bitterest and most intolerant of man and papers. They do not show goodness in all honest, open, human brave way. A paper that starts out to have no controversies, to be overly peaceable, is as sure to be filled with unjust, insinuations and innuendoes as that tomorrow's sun will rise. You can-not crush the humanity out of men. Do not look for perfection in human beings.
Sweetness may be a virtue until it reaches that point that it begins to oppose the faithful proclamation of the full gospel of Jesus Christ. As brother Lipscomb pointed out, these sweet-spirited brethren are liable to become "one-sided, unfair, and the bitterest and most intolerant of men and papers." We may be warned by these words from the pen of David Lipscomb, now stopped by death. I had rather see the Gospel Advocate filled with controversy than "to be filled with unjust insinuations and innuendos." Let us be frank with each other and with mankind and not become nervous over the criticism of some frail man or woman who has never stood in the thickest part of the battle. God for-bid that I should ever compromise the truth with any sectarian or errorist, whatever may be his standing in the community.
We should not console ourselves with the false notion that error is dead or that the devil sleeps. We need to hew to the line today as carefully as ever before, or even more so. It is needless to tell me that I must wait till I have no faults of my own before I can point out the faults of others. I want to do the best that I can with my practice, but I must con-tend for the truth. The apostles themselves were not faultless in conduct, but they did fearlessly proclaim a faultless gospel. "I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saint" (Jude 3). (Reprinted from Gospel Advocate, 10 Jan. 1929, p. 37.)
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 5, p. 6-7