by George H. Morrison
In our text we are brought face to face with the cross of Calvary. That great transaction on Calvary may be viewed in many aspects, but perhaps the aspect in our text is the most sublime of all.
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).
The cross of Calvary is thus viewed as the unanswerable proof of the love of God. First, I shall ask the need that this love should be commended. And, secondly, the nature of the love that is commended.
There are some attributes of God that need no proof. Some features of the Divine character 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, equally, the timely calling of all the summer's beauty out of the bare earth, these things, and a thousand others, teach us the power of God.
Or take the wisdom of God. Is any argument needed to assure us in general of that? None. Our bodies, so fearfully and so wonderfully made; our senses, linking us so strangely to the world; our thought, so swift, so incomprehensible; and all the constancy of nature, all the harmony of part with part, 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 God.
But the love of God is not stamped upon creation like His power. If I am to believe in that love, I must have some proof of it, strong enough to put a 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.
To one who knows nature's story, the calmest summer evening is only calm as the battlefield is calm, where multitudes lie dead. Under that outward peace, the bloodiest of wars is being waged for the right to live, for room to grow, for food to eat, in grim and fearful silence.
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 Divine compassion? Nature groaning and travailing in pain together (Rom. 8:22) seems to cry out against the love of God. Only an argument of overwhelming force will convince the heart that God is love.
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? When in a 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?"
It is experiences such as these that call for some unanswerable proof, if we are to believe that God is love. And it is that very proof which is given us in the crucifixion of Christ Jesus. The one triumphant argument for the love of God is seen in the cross of Jesus. As we read the story of that atoning death, all doubts are overborne. Nothing but wonderful, matchless love, 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, or that problems disappear. Much that was dark before remains dark; 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 theory. Love must be proved by deeds and not by words. No mere profession of words 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 it is by deeds that love seems disproved. If you or I suspect that we are hated, no 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. Facts must be met by facts. It is the facts of nature and of life, of history and of experience, that make it so hard to believe His love. So the proof He offers of His love is a fact, too. God overwhelms all the dark facts in the world's story 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, nor in these chiefly, He has commended His love to you.
The atoning death of Jesus on the cross is an irresistible deed, 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 marshaled all my arguments and all my facts, and I am here to confess today that by the fact of Calvary You have won."
One more thought: I want you to observe that this proof is always valid. There are arguments that appeal to us in childhood, but lose their power when we are grown. And there are proofs that may convince one generation, and yet be of little value to the next. 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 weary heart, burdened and dark, today 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."
Here we must find 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?
First, it is a love that thought no sacrifice too great. The surest test of love is sacrifice. We measure love by loss, not by gain. Look at the mother with her child. She sacrifices ease and sleep, and she would even sacrifice life for her little one, she loves her baby so. Think of the patriot and his country. He would give his life blood, he loves his land so well. Recall the scholar at his books, almost spurning amusements and sleep, his love for learning is so deep. Yes, in the willingness to sacrifice all that is dearest lies the measure of the noblest love.
Turn now to Calvary and by the sight of the crucified Redeemer there, begin to learn the greatness of God's love. Who is this that hangs between two thieves with pierced hands and feet? And who is this whose back bears whip-welts, whose face is fouled with spittle? Who cries, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46).
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 God's sacrifice, when He gave His only begotten Son to shame and death? Measuring the love of God by such a test as this, do we not cry out with Paul, "It passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:19)?
And what brought about so great a love? It was nothing lovable in us. Human love: springs from some excellence, or worth, or beauty, some charm that caught and held the tendrils of your heart. It drew your love out. You loved because you found those worthy to be loved.
And it is just here that God's love stands widely 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, 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 tenderness, often becomes the minister of ruin. How many a mother who would have laid her life down for her son, 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.
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? God's perfect love of goodness and awful hatred of the wrong would be dimmed.
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 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 (Rom. 8:39). Amen.