3:16 Muslims claim that God could not have a Son because they think Christians are talking about a literal biological offspring of the Father and Mary. However, throughout the NT, and especially in John, “Sonship” refers to the intimate spiritual relationship between God and Jesus.
3:16 This precious and well-known verse speaks of the divine love which moved God to provide salvation for the world through His Son. There are two words used for “life” in the Greek N.T. Zōgēg, meaning “life” in its absolute sense, as God has given it, is used in this verse. It signifies spiritual life in John. This word is frequently used for “eternal life” with its special emphasis upon the quality of life and its endless duration through the ages to come. This life is available only through belief in God’s Son. The biblical concept of “eternal life” is more than immortality, and it involves not only the soul but also the body. From creation man was made for never-ending life, not for death. The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the basis for and give the picture of the divinely appointed redemption-life (cf. Heb. 9:14, note). “Life” in its purest and noblest sense is inextricably joined to regeneration (cf. Titus 3:5, note). John uses the Greek adjective aiōgnion (“eternal”) only in the expression “eternal life” (vv. 15, 16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2, 3). As in rabbinic tradition, it has the meaning of “the life of the age to come” (cf. Dan. 12:2). To have eternal life means more than to live forever. The stress is more on the quality than on the quantity, though both are affirmed. Furthermore, John reveals it to be not only an eschatological and future possession but also a present reality (cf. 3:36; 5:24; 6:47; 1 John 5:13). This is the life Jesus offers to the world. The other word translated “life” (bios, Gk.) denotes “manner of life” (1 Tim. 2:2), “period or duration of life” (Luke 8:14), or “means of livelihood” (Mark 12:44).
3:16 God so loved the world. Some have insisted that God sent Jesus to die for the purpose of bringing salvation to everyone without exception, but only as a possibility. However, Jesus makes clear that the salvation of those whom the Father “gives me,” and only those, is not a mere possibility but an absolute certainty; “will come to me” (6:37–40; 10:14–18; 17:9). The point made by “the world” is that Christ’s saving work is not limited to one time or place but applies to the elect from all over the world. Those who do not receive the remedy God has provided in Christ will perish. It remains true that anyone who believes will not die (be separated from God) but live in God’s presence forever. See “God Is Love: Divine Goodness and Faithfulness” at Ps. 136:1.
3:16 God loved the world This verse presents a concise summary of the gospel message, tying the events of Jesus’ death to God’s love for the world He created. The statement is remarkable in its depiction of divine care for the entire world—not just His chosen people, Israel.
one and only Son The Greek term used here is monogenēs, meaning “one of a kind.”
3:16 Here is the most famous summary of the gospel in the entire Bible. For connects to v. 15 and explains what happened to make it possible that someone can “have eternal life” (v. 15), that is, through believing in Christ. God so loved the world was an astounding statement in that context because the OT and other Jewish writings had spoken only of God’s love for his people Israel. God’s love for “the world” made it possible for “whoever” (v. 15) believes in Christ, not Jews alone, to have eternal life. God’s love for the world was not mere sentiment but led to a specific action: he gave his only Son, which John elsewhere explains as sending him to earth as a man (v. 17) to suffer and die and thereby to bear the penalty for sins (see note on 1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25). On “only Son,” see note on John 1:14, which contains the same Greek phrase. The purpose of giving his Son was to make God’s great gift of eternal life available to anyone—to whoever believes in him, that is, whoever personally trusts in him (see note on 11:25). Not perish means not perish in eternal judgment, in contrast to having eternal life, the life of abundant joy and immeasurable blessing in the presence of God forever. Those who “believe in” Christ have that “eternal life” and already experience its blessings in this present time, not yet fully, but in some significant measure.
3:16 For God so loved the world. The Son’s mission is bound up in the supreme love of God for the evil, sinful “world” of humanity (cf. 6:32, 51; 12:47; see notes on 1:9; Mt 5:44, 45) that is in rebellion against Him. The word “so” emphasizes the intensity or greatness of His love. The Father gave His unique and beloved Son to die on behalf of sinful men (see note on 2Co 5:21). eternal life. See note on v. 15; cf. 17:3; 1Jn 5:20.
3:16 God so loved the world: God’s love is not restricted to any one nation or to any spiritual elite. World here may also include all of creation (Rom. 8:19–22; Col. 1:20). The Greek word for only begotten suggests a one and only son; it does not necessarily convey the idea of a birth. For example, Isaac is called Abraham’s only begotten in Heb. 11:17 and in the Septuagint, the Greek OT (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16), when actually Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. The Son of God is the Father’s one and only, His unique Son.
3:16. God the Father’s motivation in giving “His only begotten Son” to die for mankind was His great love for all (“the world”). Only begotten does not imply that Jesus was created by God the Father. Jesus is eternal, like the Father and the Spirit (John 1:1). Rather, monogenēs means one and only. Jesus is God’s only Son, and He always has been.
Everlasting life is received the very moment one “believes in” Christ. The issue is belief, not behavior (even though God wishes believers and unbelievers to behave well).
Should conveys the fact that the verbs perish and have are in the subjunctive mood, which conveys a condition. Jesus is saying that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting life. Compare 3:15; 5:24; 6:47; 11:27.
While some suggest that 3:16–21 are editorial comments by John, there is nothing to indicate that John has inserted his own remarks. These are still the words of Jesus.
3:16 This is one of the best known verses in all the Bible, doubtless because it states the gospel so clearly and simply. It summarizes what the Lord Jesus had been teaching Nicodemus concerning the manner by which the new birth is received. God, we read, so loved the world. The world here includes all mankind. God does not love men’s sins or the wicked world system, but He loves people and is not willing that any should perish.
The extent of His love is shown by the fact that He gave His only begotten Son. God has no other Son like the Lord Jesus. It was an expression of His infinite love that He would be willing to give His unique Son for a race of rebel sinners. This does not mean that everyone is saved. A person must receive what Christ has done for him before God will give him eternal life. Therefore, the words are added, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish.” There is no need for anyone to perish. A way has been provided by which all might be saved, but a person must acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior. When he does this, he has eternal life as a present possession. Boreham says:
When the church comes to understand the love with which God loved the world, she will be restless and ill at ease, until all the great empires have been captured, until every coral island has been won.
3:16. Whether this verse was spoken by John or Jesus, it is God’s Word and is an important summary of the gospel. God’s motivation toward people is love. God’s love is not limited to a few or to one group of people but His gift is for the whole world. God’s love was expressed in the giving of His most priceless gift—His unique Son (cf. Rom. 8:3, 32). The Greek word translated one and only, referring to the Son, is monogenē, which means “only begotten,” or “only born-one.” It is also used in John 1:14, 18; 3:18; and 1 John 4:9. On man’s side, the gift is simply to be received, not earned (John 1:12–13). A person is saved by believing, by trusting in Christ. Perish (apolētai) means not annihilation but rather a final destiny of “ruin” in hell apart from God who is life, truth, and joy. Eternal life is a new quality of life, which a believer has now as a present possession and will possess forever (cf. 10:28; 17:3).
3:16. John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known verse in the NT. God so loved the world includes all people, not just believers. God’s love is not sentimentality. “Loved” is an aorist tense, and traditionally is viewed as referring to the cross. It also anticipates the next phrase, that He gave His only begotten Son. God’s love is linked to His giving of Christ to die for sins (Gl 2:20; Eph 5:2, 25). For only begotten Son, see comment on 1:14. For believes in, see comment on 1:12. Whoever believes in Him is better translated “all who believe” or “everyone who believes,” so that the death of Christ is for the purpose of providing escape from destruction and eternal life for believers. Perish contrasts with “eternal life” and involves an eternal conscious punishment (cf. Mk 9:42–48; Rv 14:9–11). Those who believe in Christ have (present tense) eternal life now, even while on earth.
3:16. Is there a verse anywhere in the Bible more well-known and loved than this one? How poignantly it states that eternal life comes not because of anything we do. Salvation comes as a free gift when we believe what God has said. For almost two thousand years people have been adding to the gospel, but the truth still rings clear today—whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Nicodemus had superb religious training but very little spiritual insight. He could not grasp Jesus’ statement that a person must be born from above to experience eternal life.
Four times in three verses (vv. 16–18) Jesus uses variations of the word believe, perhaps the most important key word in John’s Gospel. The Son of God classified the entire human race into two groups—those who believe and are not condemned, and those who do not believe and are condemned already.
The gospel begins with God’s love, penetrates through the cross and the empty tomb, and results in eternal life for those who believe. Morris declared, “In typical Johannine fashion, ‘gave’ is used in two sentences. God gave the Son by sending Him into the world, but God also gave the Son on the cross. Notice that the cross is not said to show us the love of the Son (as in Gal. 2:20), but that of the Father. The atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God. It is not something wrung from Him. The Greek construction puts some stress on the actuality of the gift: it is not ‘God loved so as to give,’ but ‘God loved so that He gave’ ” (Morris, p. 229).
Nicodemus would have believed firmly that God loved Israel, but not much in Jewish theology allowed for God to love the world. This is new revelation, the new covenant breadth of the gospel. Jesus had just evoked one Old Testament image in the Pharisee’s mind (the snake in the desert), and now he touched on another—the aged Abraham sacrificing his only son on the altar (Gen. 22:2).
We’ve already explored the word believe, so crucial to the message of the gospel and the record of John. But two other words call for attention in this splendid verse. To describe God’s love for the world John chose the verb agapao for the first time in his writings. He used it thirty-six times, more than twice as many as any other book of the New Testament except his first epistle in which he used it thirty-one times. But the gospel does not center in God’s love, but rather what he gave on the cross—the death of his Son. The Bible does not allow us to merely acknowledge that Christ died for the world; saving faith requires a recognition that he died for each of us individually.
The words one and only translate monogenes, which appears again in verse 18. John had already used it in 1:14, 18 and used it again in 1 John 4:9.
The verb perish speaks of eternal death in contrast to eternal life. It represents the opposite of preservation, since death is the opposite of life. Those who refuse God’s gift are alienated from Him without hope for both the present and the future. A person need not sin blatantly to perish. One may simply fail to act positively in receiving God’s gift. When applied to Judas in John 17:12, we learn that the one who perished was the son of perdition, or in the NIV, the one “doomed to destruction,” a play on the word apoleo.
A word needs to be said here about the section that includes verses 16–18. If we take these verses separately in our study, they form a single unit of thought in the text and each verse depends upon the others (though many who could quote verse 16 would not be able to recite verses 17–18 with equal accuracy). Verse 16 tells us that God gave his Son, verse 17 explains why, and verse 18 emphasizes the result.
Yet another point requires mention here. Red-letter editions of the Bible identify Jesus speaking throughout this chapter in response to Nicodemus. However, many scholars believe that the Lord’s words end at the end of verse 15 and that verses 16–21 represent the words of John. As Tasker puts it, “It is a reasonable assumption that verses 16 to 21 are not part of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, but comments by the evangelist, as Jesus in speaking of the first Person of the Trinity refers to him as ‘Father’ not as ‘God’ ” (Tasker, p. 69).
In Tenney’s view, “The words may be the author’s condensation of Jesus’ utterance, but were doubtless based on what He said on this occasion. Possibly he was present at the interview, though he was not mentioned as being included in it” (Tenney, The Gospel of John, p. 89).
16. For God so loved the world that he gave his Son, the only-begotten, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God’s infinite love made manifest in an infinitely glorious manner, this is the theme of the golden text which has endeared itself to the hearts of all God’s children. The verse sheds light on the following aspects of this love: 1. its character (so loved), 2. its Author (God), 3. its object (the world), 4. its Gift (his Son, the only-begotten), and 5. its purpose (that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life).
The conjunction for establishes a causal relation between this and the preceding verse. We might paraphrase as follows: the fact that it is only in connection with Christ that everlasting life is ever obtained (see verse 15) is clear from this, that it has pleased God to grant this supreme gift only to those who repose their trust in him (verse 16).
- Its character
The word so by reason of what follows must be interpreted as indicating: in such an infinite degree and in such a transcendently glorious manner. Great emphasis is placed on this thought.
So loved. The tense used in the original (the aorist ἠγάπησεν) shows that God’s love in action, reaching back to eternity and coming to fruition in Bethlehem and at Calvary, is viewed as one, great, central fact. That love was rich and true, full of understanding, tenderness, and majesty.
- Its Author
So loved God (with the article in the original: ὁ θεός, just as in 1:1 where, as has been shown, the Father is indicated). In order to gain some conception of the Deity it will never do to subtract from the popular concept every possible attribute until literally nothing is left. God is ever full of life and full of love. Take all human virtues; then raise them to the nth degree, and realize that no matter how grand and glorious a total picture is formed in the mind, even that is a mere shadow of the love-life which exists eternally in the heart of him whose very name is Love. And that love of God ever precedes our love (1 John 4:9, 10, 19; cf. Rom. 5:8–10), and makes the latter possible.
- Its object
Now the object of this love is the world. (See on 1:10 and note where the various meanings have been summarized.) Just what is meant by this term here in 3:16? We answer:
- The words, “that whoever believes” clearly indicate that the reference is not to birds and trees but to mankind. Cf. also 4:42; 8:12; 1 John 4:14.
- However, here mankind is not viewed as the realm of evil, breaking out into open hostility to God and Christ (meaning 6, in note ), for God does not love evil.
- The term world, as here used, must mean mankind which, though sin-laden, exposed to the judgment, and in need of salvation (see verse 16b and verse 17), is still the object of his care. God’s image is still, to a degree, reflected in the children of men. Mankind is like a mirror. Originally this mirror was very beautiful, a work of art. But, through no fault of the Maker, it has become horribly blurred. Its creator, however, still recognizes his own work.
- By reason of the context and other passages in which a similar thought is expressed (see note , meaning 5), it is probable that also here in 3:16 the term indicates fallen mankind in its international aspect: men from every tribe and nation; not only Jews but also Gentiles. This is in harmony with the thought expressed repeatedly in the Fourth Gospel (including this very chapter) to the effect that physical ancestry has nothing to do with entrance into the kingdom of heaven: 1:12, 13; 3:6; 8:31–39.
- Its gift
“… that he gave his Son, the only-begotten.” Literally the original reads, “that his Son, the only-begotten, he gave.” All the emphasis is on the astounding greatness of the gift; hence, in this clause the object precedes the verb. The verb he gave must be taken in the sense of he gave unto death as an offering for sin (cf. 15:13; 1 John 3:16; especially 1 John 4:10; Rom. 8:32: John’s gave is Paul’s spared not). On the meaning of the only begotten, see on 1:14. Note that the article which precedes the word Son is repeated before only begotten. Thus both substantive and adjective receive emphasis. We hear, as it were, the echo of Gen. 22:2, “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac.…” The gift of the Son is the climax of God’s love (cf. Matt. 21:33–39).
- Its purpose
… in order that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God does not leave mankind to itself. He so loved the world that his Son, the only begotten, he gave, with this purpose: that those who receive him with abiding trust and confidence may have everlasting life. Though the Gospel is proclaimed to men of every tribe and nation, not every one who hears it believes in the Son. But whoever believes—whether he be a Jew or a Gentile—has everlasting life.
The words “… should not perish” do not merely mean: should not lose physical existence; nor do they signify: should not be annihilated. As the context (verse 17) indicates, the perishing of which this verse speaks indicates divine condemnation, complete and everlasting, so that one is banished from the presence of the God of love and dwells forever in the presence of a God of wrath, a condition which, in principle, begins here and now but does not reach its full and terrible culmination for both soul and body until the day of the great consummation. Note that perishing is the antonym of having everlasting life.
“… but have everlasting life.” (On the meaning of life see on 1:4.) The life which pertains to the future age, to the realm of glory, becomes the possession of the believer here and now; that is, in principle. This life is salvation, and manifests itself in fellowship with God in Christ (17:3); in partaking of the love of God (5:42), of his peace (16:33), and of his joy (17:13). The adjective everlasting (αἰώνιος) occurs 17 times in the Fourth Gospel, 6 times in I John, always with the noun life. It indicates, as has been pointed out, a life that is different in quality from the life which characterizes the present age. However, the noun with its adjective (ζωή αἰώνιος) as used here in 3:16 has also a quantitative connotation: it is actually everlasting, never-ending life.
In order to receive this everlasting life one must believe in God’s only begotten Son. It is important, however, to take note of the fact that Jesus mentions the necessity of regeneration before he speaks about faith (cf. 3:3, 5 with 3:12, 14–16). The work of God within the soul ever precedes the work of God in which the soul cooperates (see especially 6:44). And because faith is, accordingly, the gift of God (not only with Paul, Eph. 2:8, but also in the Fourth Gospel), its fruit, everlasting life, is also God’s gift (10:28). God gave his Son; he gives us the faith to embrace the Son; he gives us everlasting life as a reward for the exercise of this faith. To him be the glory forever and ever!
Ver. 16. God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.—
The gospel in brief:—Pliny declares that Cicero once saw the Iliad of Homer written in so small a character that it could be contained in a nutshell. Peter Bales, a celebrated caligrapher, in the days of Queen Elizabeth, wrote the whole Bible so that it was shut up in a common walnut as its casket. In these days of advanced mechanism even greater marvels in miniature have been achieved, but never has so much meaning been compressed into so small a space as in that famous little word “So,” in the text. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gospel:—The text gives a deeper insight into the Divine character than the heavens which declare God’s glory and than those tender mercies of His providence which are over all His works.
- The Divine love. 1. Its marvellousness. The world is (1) not the wondrously perfect material universe; (2) not the world of unfallen angels; (3) not a world of creatures such as Adam was when pronounced “very good.” Then had there been no wonder. But (4) the world the whole of which lieth in wickedness. 2. Its universality. (1) Salvation is as common as sunshine, yet if a man will close his eyes the sun is of no use to him. So while salvation is for all many put it away from them. (2) It was originally meant to be so. The Jews denied it because “they erred, not knowing the Scripture.” The promise to Abraham and renewed to Isaac and repeated by Isaiah was a universal one. (3) Salvation extends to the most ignorant and the very worst.
- The Divine gift. He could give nothing dearer or greater. Some may excel others in kindness; but God’s love is such that in its manifestation it cannot possibly be exceeded. Christ is His unspeakable gift. He gave His Son. 1. To a humbling incarnation. 2. To a laborious servitude. 3. To an ignominious and sacrificial death.
III. The Divine design. 1. What God wants to do. (1) To save all men from perishing—(2) To give all everlasting life. 2. The condition upon which He will do it. Faith in His Son. (Mortlock Daniell.)
A triple ray of Gospel light:—Here are three great testimonies like the three primary colours which make one white beam.
- Light upon the character of God. 1. God loves. The Indian or Chinese will not let you say God loves. It is an impeachment of His dignity and argues need. In a profound sense, however, of yearning for protection, of appreciating the souls of men, of finding a necessity for seeing them blessed, in the sense of pity, mercy, self-effacement, God loves. Had we said this it would have been a marvellous testimony; much more so had Paul or John said it. But love on the lips of Christ has a thousandfold more meaning. 2. God loves the world, the unregenerate world, as a mother loves her wayward no less than her worthy child, though the love be broken-hearted grief. So God loves the rebellious. 3. God loves the world with a distributive affection reaching the “whosoevers.” 4. God loves it with an affection so deep, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, as to give His only begotten Son. Love is ever giving, and the love of God says not of aught it possesses that it is its own. He keeps not His child. See, then, here in the first line of the Gospel that—(1) It reveals the heart of God. (2) His habit of sacrifice. (3) His compassion for every soul. (4) His desire to save all.
- Light upon Christ. What a problem has Christ been! The generations have never been able to forget Him. Men have never given Him a small name. The estimates of foes have betrayed their sense of His greatness, and the adoration of friends has lost itself in the endeavour to express it. Who is He? The ages have been a wrestling Jacob whose question has been, What is Thy name? Ask Himself. 1. The only begotten Son of God. The Son is of the nature of the Father—Divine in a sense no other being is. All the Divine fulness of the Godhead is in Him. And His life matches His name. 2. The gift of God: the property of each soul of man. There is no tie which has knit Him to our hearts that He has not knit. He takes our nature, conditions, duties, temptations, sorrows, curse, death. Ours—(1) By evident gift. (2) By obvious sympathies. (3) Ours so that all He has and is, the merits of His life, the atonement of His death, is ours. 3. The Saviour. Only Christ has borne this great name. Mohammed is prophet; Buddha is teacher only; Jesus is Saviour. A name (1) written on the consciousness of every redeemed soul, and (2) writ large in history.
III. Light on man. Low views of God go together with low views of man. You cannot lose your faith in God without losing your faith in man. Here we see—1. God loves each man, therefore each man is lovable; no heart without a beauty in it that charms the eye of God; no life without some possibility of glory in it which attracts His love. 2. We are capable of faith. There is a Divine dignity in man which lets him lift himself up to God and entrust himself into His arms, and put himself wholly under His guidance and in His power. 3. We are capable of everlasting life. Philosophy as we know it to-day is a theory of the graveyard only. If we cast away the Lord of life we have to believe in a destiny that is only a tomb. Christ has come that we might have everlasting life. (R. Glover.)
The love of God:—
- The fountain of grace in God’s unspeakable love. 1. The object. The world: man in his corrupt and miserable state (John 5:19). 2. The act. The love of God is—(1) The love of benevolence (Titus 3:4). (2) Of complacency (Psa. 11:7; John 16:27). 3. The degree—“So.” We are not told how much. It is to be conceived rather than spoken of; admired rather than conceived. Observe from all this—1. That love is at the bottom of all. We may give a reason for other things, but not for this love (Deut. 7:7, 8; Matt. 11:26). 2. Love is visible in the progress and perfection of our salvation in Christ (Rom. 5:8). Light is not more conspicuous in the sun. 3. If there were any other cause it must be either (1) in the merit of Christ; but this was the manifestation not the cause of God’s love (1 John 3:16), or (2) in our worthiness; but this cannot be (1 John 4:10; Col. 1:24). The uses of all this. 1. To confute all misapprehensions of God. Satan tempts us to view God as unlovely or to entertain unworthy thoughts of His mercy. But this shows us that He is fuller of love than the sea is of water. 2. To quicken our admiration of the love of God in Christ. Three things commend any favour done us. (1) The good will of the giver. (2) The greatness of the gift. (3) The unworthiness of the recipient. All concur here. 3. To exhort us—(1) To improve this love. It is an invitation to seek after God. (2) To answer it with a corresponding love. (3) As love was at the bottom of all grace, to let it be of all duty.
- The way God took to express His love. There is a twofold giving of Christ. 1. For us (Rom. 8:32). This mightily bespeaks God’s love and care for our salvation. In creation God made us after His own image; in redemption Christ was made after ours. This was the most convenient way to bring about His purposes of grace—(1) That our faith might be more certain. (a) By His humanity He taught men by doctrine and example. (b) By His dying He satisfied the justice of God, and so made a way for the course of His mercy to us (Rom. 3:25, 26). (c) By His resurrection, which was a visible satisfaction to the world that His sacrifice was accepted (Rom. 4:25). (d) By His ascension the truth of eternal life was more confirmed. (2) That our hope might be confirmed, being built upon Christ’s example and promises (1 Pet. 1:3; 1 John 2:25; 2:26). (3) That our love to God may be more fervent. (4) That our obedience may be more ready (Heb. 5:8, 9). 2. To us. (1) Without Christ there is no recovery of what we lost, viz., (a) The image of God. This is restored by Christ, who is the pattern (2 Cor. 3:18) and author (Titus 3:5, 6). Till we are in Him we have not this great benefit (2 Cor. 5:17). (b) The favour of God which Christ died to recover (2 Cor. 5:17). (c) Fellowship with God (Gen. 3:24; cf. Eph. 3:12; Heb. 4:16). (2) Without Christ there is no removal of our misery—the death and curse involved in sin. Christ finds us where Adam left us (John 3:18). (3) Without Christ there is no obtaining our proper happiness. Man was made for God, and cannot be happy without Him (John 14:6; 1 John 5:11). The use of all this is—1. To confute the world’s opinion who measure God’s love by outward things. 2. To excite us to bless God for Jesus Christ (Rom. 7:25; 1 Cor. 15:57).
III. The end of this love. Notice—1. The connection of our duty and privilege. We believe: God gives. 2. The universality of the proposal. 3. The condition. 4. The benefits negatively and positively considered. (T. Manton, D.D.)
The love of God:—What subject can be so interesting as this? The gospel in general is a record of the love of God, but here the only begotten Son from the bosom of the Father gives us an epitome of the whole.
- Its object. If God so loved the world, then—1. He loved those who deserved no such love. 2. He loved those who could do nothing to purchase or to procure it. 3. He loved those by whom it was unsolicited and undesired. 4. He must manifest it in a way worthy of Himself. (1) Was such a love verbal? There is a great deal of such which says, “Be ye warmed,” &c. Was it sentimental? There are a good many so exquisite in their sensibilities as not to be able to endure a case of woe. Had God’s love been such we had never been redeemed. (2) God’s love was practical, bountiful, efficient.
- Its manner. He loved in a way worthy of Himself, and bestowed a gift which proved its greatness. 1. The supreme dignity and worth of the gift—“His Son” in a sense in which no other being is. Angels are sons because God has created them; Christians because God has adopted them. But Christ is God’s Son by eternal generation; Son in such a sense that He can say of the Father, “I and My Father are one,” and that the Father can say of Him, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” 2. The relation in which the gift stood to the Giver. He was one in whom the Father delighted, not as in a creature with a limited affection, but with a boundless complacency. 3. Does not this teach us that a less valuable gift could not expiate human crime, and that no other price could have been accepted. Had Christ’s teaching, example, &c., been sufficient His blood would not have been shed. But “without shedding of blood is no remission.” 4. The only begotten Son so loved the world that He gave Himself. The allegation that if Christ suffered under compulsion it were unjust is true. But Christ was Divine, and therefore independent, and consequently cannot be compelled to suffer. Hence He says, “I delight to do Thy will.” “No man taketh My life from Me.”
III. Its end. It was glorious and justified the means—the salvation of the world. But this great benefit is not dispensed indiscriminately. There must be a cordial acceptance of God’s plan. Two ideas: 1. That of credence. Jesus must be believed to be what the record declares Him to be. 2. But such credence of this testimony that it is accepted by us, and that there is a personal reliance on Christ for salvation. It is with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. 3. Nor is this one act merely; it is an act repeated till a habit is formed, a habit which gives a distinctive denomination to the person—“believer.” 4. This salvation through faith is negative and positive. In conclusion: 1. “God so loved the world.” Then (1) He has so loved mankind as He has not loved other orders of creatures. (2) He has carried this attribute in this manifestation to its utmost intensity. This cannot be said of His wisdom or His power. (3) It was so vast, amazing, rich as to pay down a price that defies all the powers of human or angelic calculation. 2. Has God so loved the world as to give, &c.? Then—(1) Let us cherish views of the Divine character worthy of Him whose we are and whom we serve. (2) How vital to salvation is faith! (3) Have we the love of God? (4) We ought to love one another. (R. Newton, D.D.)
God’s love and its gift:—
- The love of God. 1. If God so loved this guilty world, then what an unplumbed depth of grace must have been in His heart! For the object of His love is not the world in its first condition when He pronounced it “very good,” but the world ruined by sin and condemned for apostasy. There would have been no wonder had the world been drowned. Yet without any change in our claims or character He loved us. And this love is not a mere relenting which might lead to a respite, or simple regret which might end in a sigh. There is no merit in loving what is lovely. There is nothing about man but his misery to attract the Divine attachment. Man’s sin is not his misfortune, but his fault. And the marvel is there is nothing God hates so much as sin, and yet no one He loved so much as the sinner. 2. If God so loved this little world, then surely His love is disinterested. This orb is truly a “little one,” yet it has called out emotions which mightier spheres had failed to elicit. 3. If God loved this fallen world and not the world of fallen angels His love must be sovereign. “Be not high minded, but fear.” God spared not the angels that sinned, and if thou art spared thou hast no reason to boast. 4. The fervour and mightiness of this love arrest our attention—“so.”
- The gift of God’s love. We estimate the value of a gift by various criteria. 1. The resources of the giver. Our Lord declared that the poor widow gave truly more than the wealthy worshippers. 2. The motives of the giver. One may heap favours on a fallen foe to wound his pride. 3. The manner. If it be withheld until wrung out, or if it be offered in a surly spirit, it sinks at once in importance below the lesser boon offered in frank and spontaneous sympathy. 4. The condition of the recipient—whether rich or needy, and in what degree of need, and the extent to which the gift is adapted to him. Now let the love of God be tested by these criteria. 1. The resources of the Giver are infinite; but in the donation of Christ you see the limits of possibility. If Christ be God what gift superior can be presented? or if He be the Son of God what richer love could be exhibited? 2. God’s motives were perfectly unselfish. 3. His gift is the only one that could have profited us. 4. What adaptation there is in it to man’s dire need!
III. The design of God’s love. 1. To rescue man from perishing. 2. To confer upon man the boon of everlasting life. 3. To do this for all who believe: (1) of every character; (2) country; (3) rank; (4) age. (J. Eadie, D.D.)
The love of God:—
- The object of this love. The world—not a part of it. The same reasons upon which His love of individuals is justified will justify His love to all.
- Its nature. 1. Negatively. (1) Not a delight in the character of men. For an infinite being to sympathize with wicked natures He must be infinitely wicked. (2) Not a mere emotion, for emotions do not influence the life without the will. (3) Not fondness for particular persons. There was nothing in any man to warrant this fondness. (4) Not an involuntary love as is manifest in what it did. (5) Not an unreasonable state of mind which so often gives rise to a false affection. 2. Positively. (1) It was the only kind of love that could have been important to man. (2) It was a reasonable affection. (3) It was good-will or benevolence. (4) It was an unselfish kind of love. (5) God did the good for the sake of the intrinsic and infinite value of the soul. Men had no claim upon Him, but there were infinite reasons why He should not destroy them. (6) It was disinterested. (7) It was a love of amazing strength. Here was a world of enemies at war with Him, yet He spared not His own Son. (8) It was not for a single Christian as such, but for a world of sinners. (9) It was forbearing. (10) It was universal. (11) It was holy.
III. The reason for this wonderful measure of the Divine government. Mankind had resisted this government. If God had seemed to connive at this, all other beings might have denied the justice of the law and disobeyed it also. What must be done? God’s relation to the universe demanded of Him either to execute the law or to make demonstration of His estimation of the law. It is easy to see that the honour of the law might be fully sustained by God Himself if He should show before the whole universe His approbation of the law. If God would take upon Himself human nature, and in this nature would stand right out before the universe, and obey the law and suffer its penalty, the law would be perfectly honoured. This was what was done in Christ. (Prof. Finney.)
The love of God:—
- How was Jesus given by the Father? 1. By His designation and appointment unto death (Acts 2:23; Isa. 42:1). 2. In parting with Him and setting Him at some distance from Himself for a time (John 16:28; Psa. 22:1, 2). 3. In delivering Him into the hands of justice to be punished (Rom. 8:32). 4. In the application of Him with all the purchases of His blood, and settling all this upon us as an inheritance (John 6:32, 33; John 4:10).
- How this gift was the highest, fullest manifestation of the love of God that ever the world saw. This will be evidenced if you consider—1. How near and dear Christ was to the Father (Col. 1:13). 2. To what He gave Him (Luke 22:22). 3. That in giving Christ He gave the richest jewel in His cabinet. 4. On whom the gift was bestowed. (1) Not on angels; not on human friends, but (3) upon enemies (Rom. 5:8–10). 5. The freeness of the gift (1 John 4:19). Corollaries. 1. The exceeding preciousness of souls (1 Pet. 1:18; Matt. 16:26). 2. Those for whom God gave His own Son may warrantably expect any other mercy from Him (Rom. 8:32; 1 Cor. 3:20, 21). (1) No other mercy can be so dear to God as Jesus is. (2) As Jesus was nearer the heart of God than all, so Jesus is in Himself much more excellent than all of them (Rom. 9:5). (3) There is no other mercy you want but you are entitled to it by the gift of Christ (2 Cor. 1:20; 1 Tim. 6:17). (4) If God has given you Christ when enemies it is not imaginable He should deny you an inferior mercy now you are reconciled (Rom. 5:8–10). 3. If the greatest love hath been manifested in the gift of Christ, then the greatest evil and wickedness is manifested in rejecting Him (Heb. 2:2–4). (J. Flavel.)
The love of God:—
- God is love. 1. It is singular. He first loved. 2. It is personal. 3. It is compassionate. He pities the souls that sin has ruined. 4. It is comprehensive. It extends to all mankind.
- Its expression. 1. In the gift. This includes (1) the birth of Christ; (2) His matchless life and example; and (3) His sacrifice.
III. Its results. It is implied—1. That all are lost. 2. That none need perish; and 3. That whosoever believeth in Him hath everlasting life.
- We live in the glorious day of salvation! This should be the tidings of great joy to all people. The return of Christmas should revive our hope and rekindle our zeal to spend and be spent in the Master’s service. (L. O. Thompson.)
The love of God:—
- Love in its grandest source. 1. God can love and does love. We must beware of making God only an infinite man; yet love in Him must be the same in kind as love in us. 2. Love is more than a Divine attribute. It is as light of which all the attributes are colours. 3. How near this brings Him to our hearts. We admire other qualities; we only love the loving. 4. The Scripture represents everywhere this love as the fountain of redemption.
- Love in its purest form. It had nothing to attract it and everything to repel it. 1. The world was perishing; it was therefore not complacent, but compassionating love. It is one thing to help the happy and prosperous and another to succour the needy and miserable. 2. The world was guilty. It is harder to love those who add unworthiness to distress. Moral excellence may attract compassion to the wretched, but moral vileness disgusts. But “God commendeth His love,” &c. 3. The world was at enmity with God. That love is purest which withstands provocations and does good to the injurious. “When we were enemies we were reconciled,” &c. 4. The world’s misery and peril were caused by itself. It is always a sore strain on mercy when solicited for the wilful. How natural the reply: “It serves you right”! God says, “Thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help.”
III. Love in its greatest strength. That is a poor philanthropy which can pity without helping: but “the philanthropy of God appeared” in action. Love is as deeds, not words, desires, or feelings. 1. The love of God was practical in the most costly way. The test of love is sacrifice; the criterion of its strength is the measure of the sacrifice. The Cross was the self-denial of God. 2. Of all sacrifices the chief are those of persons. The highest sphere of value is in persons, not things, although the latter may be very precious. 3. God sacrificed the highest of all persons.
- Love in its loftiest purpose. No purpose could be greater. We know the worth of life. “All that a man hath will he give for his life.” It is the condition of all else that is prized. Salvation is life, not in figure, but in fact. There is a life of the flesh, of the soul, and of the spirit. This life in all its perfection is the end of God. Beginning in the finest portion of our nature it will spread and strengthen until it possesses the whole of it. Man redeemed and renewed is to live to the utmost of his capacity of life. This life is “everlasting.” Sin brought death and separated from the tree of life: Christ restored access to it.
- Love in its widest sphere. The “world” is not here used in a restrictive sense. It would be difficult to believe, did not facts prove it, that any could be so blinded as to make “the world” signify the Church. For the fact is, whenever the “world” is applied to a portion of mankind it always means the wicked. Wherever there is a man in the way to perish, there is the world God loved. There is nothing in the love or sacrifice of the Father and the Son to prevent the whole world being saved. God loved without limit of nation or condition. Conclusion: 1. You have here a pattern and spring of love. “Be imitators of God as dear children.” “If God loved us,” &c. 2. What a gospel—good news—is here! God loves you now in spite of all your sins and follies. The only title to love is to be “perishing”; the only condition of its blessings is to “believe.” 3. The subject casts a shadow by its very brightness on your unbelief, state, prospects. (A. J. Morris.)
The love of God:—This affectionate compassion is set forth—
- By comparison of the parties loving and loved. God most high and holy loved the base and wicked world.
- By the measure of it. He so loved, that is, so infinitely, so transcendently, so incomprehensibly (Heb. 12:3). Such as cannot be sufficiently expressed or conceived (1 John 3:1).
III. By the fruit of His love. It was no lip love, but a giving love. Yea, but some things are not worth the giving, therefore—
- By the worthiness of the gift—His only begotten Son. And that to stand in our stead, and to die on the cross for us (ver. 14). Yea, but though never so excellent a gift be given, yet if it be not of use and profit to whom it is given, it doth not so testify love. Therefore—
- It is set forth by the benefit that comes to us by it. 1. Not perishing. 2. Having eternal life. But perhaps though this gift brings so great profit, yet they to whom it is given must take some great and extraordinary pains to get it, and then God’s love is not so great. Therefore—
- It is set forth by the easiness of the means whereby we are possessed of the profit of this gift, “That whosoever believeth.” Yet if this so worthy a gift, of such invaluable worth to the enjoyer, had been restrained to some few sorts of men, the matter had not been so much. Therefore—
VII. It is set forth by the universality, that whosoever, be he what he will, so he will but reach forth his hand to take this gift, he shall have it, and all the comfort of it. (J. Dyke.)
The Divine love:—
- In its source. God loved the world. 1. In its guilt, therefore His love was a love of benevolence. He could not take delight in it, but He did wish it well. 2. In its depravity. Therefore His love is self-moved—the world not as made by God, but as ruined by the devil; consequently there was nothing in it to attract the Divine love. 3. The world, not hell, consequently His love was sovereign-free as opposed to necessary. He could have loved fallen angels had such been His pleasure. But “He took not hold on angels, but the seed of Abraham.” Why? “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
- In its manifestation, in—1. The birth or incarnation of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9). This did not engender or excite His love, it only manifested it. 2. In His death or atonement (1 John 4:10). The Divine love is not the effect, but the cause. The gods of heathenism received but never gave sacrifices. 3. In the Person of the only begotten Son of God.
III. In its design. 1. It has in view the salvation of every individual. 2. It offers to every individual the supremest, most precious blessing God Himself can bestow. (1) Endless life. (2) The very life of God Himself. 3. It offers the supremest blessings on the easiest, cheapest terms. God the Father had a great deal to do, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; but man has nothing to do but to believe. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D.D.)
- In the gift. Men who love much will give much. Little love forgets to bring water for the feet, but great love breaks its box of alabaster. Consider—1. What this gift was. The Father’s other self. What more could He give? Could you fathers give your sons to die for your enemy? 2. How God gave it: not as you, to some honourable pursuit in which you would not be deprived altogether of your son’s company, but as an exile to be born in a manger, to toil as a carpenter, and to die as a felon. 3. When He gave: for there is love in the time. (1) Jesus was always the gift of God. The promise was made as soon as Adam fell. Throughout the ages the Father stood to His gift. Every sacrifice was a renewal of the gift of grace. The whole system of types betokened that in the fulness of time God would give His Son. Admire the pertinacity of this love. Many a man in a moment of generous excitement can perform a supreme act of benevolence and yet could not bear to look at it calmly from year to year. (2) It includes all the ages afterwards. God still gives.
- In the plan of salvation. What is it to believe in Jesus? 1. To give your firm and cordial assent to the truth of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. 2. To accept this for yourself. In Adam’s sin you did not sin personally, but by committing personal transgression you laid your hand upon it and made it your own. In like manner you must accept and appropriate the atonement of Jesus. 3. Personal trust.
III. In the persons for whom this plan is available. God did not so love the world that any man that does not believe in Jesus shall be saved. “Whosoever believeth.” 1. From the moralist to the utterly vile; from the grey-headed sinner to the boy or maiden. 2. It encircles all degrees of faith.
- In the deliverance. Whosoever believes shall not perish, though he is ready to perish. To perish is to lose all hope in Christ, all trust in God, all light in life, all peace in death, all joy.
- In the possession. God gives to every man that believes in Christ everlasting life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s love for the world:—
- The Divine love—what it is. 1. The essence of His nature. 2. All His attributes are modifications and manifestations of His love. 3. His law, the order of creation, the arrangement of His providence are expressions of His love. 4. Love is the ground of His perfect happiness.
- The special fruit of the Divine love in the gift of Christ. 1. The origin of Christ’s mission was the love of God. 2. God gave His Son. (1) In the councils of eternity. (2) In His birth in time. (3) In His death. 3. The relationship between the Father and the Son is the measure of the Divine love. (1) Not an exalted creature. (2) Not merely a Son. (3) Not His Son only by incarnation. (4) But His only begotten, well beloved, and everlasting Son.
III. The recipients of this gift. 1. Not the “elect” world, which God loves with the love of complacency. 2. But the sinful world, which He loves with the love of compassion.
- The object contemplated in the bestowal of this gift. 1. To prevent dreadful evil. 2. To bestow unspeakable good. (A. Beith, D.D.)
God’s love to the world:—This verse is one of the gems of the Bible, a star of the first magnitude. Observe three things.
- How God is affected towards the cosmos: He loved it. 1. Who is God? The God of the Bible. 2. What is the cosmos? The world of human life. 3. How they stood affected. (1) Originally, in harmony. (2) Latterly, in enmity. (3) Now, through Christ, in harmony once more: without Christ, still at enmity. 3. New and Divine revelation: God is love.
- How God manifested this affection. 1. What He gave—His Son. (1) Only begotten. (2) Well beloved. 2. How He gave. (1) Lovingly. (2) Freely. (3) Wholly.
III. For what purpose was this affection manifested. 1. Negatively: that man might not loose himself utterly from God, duty, happiness. Thus was the pity of God manifested. 2. Positively: that man may have life, age during life. (Bible Notes and Queries.)
The love of God in the gift of a Saviour:—These words express the substance of the gospel. No speaker ever had the power of condensing great principles into so narrow a compass as the Lord Jesus.
- The plan of salvation originated in the love of God. 1. The idea that God is loving has been doubted or denied. (1) By those who contend that the world ought to have been made happy and pure. To them the fact that He provides remedies is no proof of His goodness. (2) By those who suppose that the Bible represents God as originally a stern and inexorable Being placated by Christ, and that now He is only mild and benignant to a few. 2. The text teaches that God was originally disposed to show mercy. (1) No change has been wrought in His character by the plan of salvation. He was just as worthy of love and confidence before as after the atonement. (2) God was originally so full of mercy that He was willing to stoop to any sacrifice except that of truth and justice in order to save man. (3) The plan of salvation was not merely to save man, but to save the name, character, and government of God. This could only be done by allowing His Son to be treated as if He was a sinner, in order to treat the really guilty as if they were righteous, and so to identify the one with the other.
- The expression of His love was the highest that it could possibly be. 1. Such a gift as that of His only begotten Son is the highest conceivable gift, and this Christ intends to convey. The Bible represents God as having the attributes of a kind and tender Father. He loves when He says He loves, and is no cold creation of the imagination. When a man bids his son go into the tented field with every prospect of his dying for the welfare of his country, it is the highest expression of his attachment for that country. 2. But no man has ever manifested such a love as God’s. In a few instances a man has sacrificed his life for his friend, and not a few fathers and mothers endangered their lives for their children. But who has ever given the life of his child for an enemy? But “God commendeth,” &c. (A. Barnes, D.D.)
Christ’s mission a revelation of God’s love:—
- Love in its highest form. Love is a generic term and includes a large number of specific affections. There is a love of friendship, brotherly love, parental love, conjugal love, a love of country or patriotism, and a love of God, or religion. Love is a redeeming quality among the many miseries of our fallen state. It is like the silver ray of sun-light which gleams through the dark cloud when the storm is brewing in the sky. It is like an oasis in the desert, which is a scene of beauty and a home of life amid arid plains doomed to perpetual barrenness. It is like the wood which Moses took and placed in the bitter waters of Mara. It sweetens the cup of human experience. It is the only lasting bond of human society—the only guarantee of the perpetual bliss of heaven, and the only attribute in fallen man which is made an emblem of God, “God is love.” If love in human form and in a fallen world be so Divine, what must it be in God Himself? Love in man is but a ray from the sun; a drop from the ocean.
- Love in its sublimest manifestation. The object of my text is not general, but special. It is to assure us that while the love of God may be traced in every object in nature, and read on every page of Providence, as the colours of the rainbow may be found in every ray of silvery sun-light, yet the brightest and the fullest manifestation of it is in the mission of Jesus into the world to save sinners. In considering this subject, we must carefully bear in mind that Jesus Christ was not a mere man, but God who assumed a human form and nature. Few men in the time of the Saviour’s advent had any idea of the love of God. Man’s true happiness must ever be found in God, and in other beings only as they are Godlike. But to find happiness in such a god as that of which the highest conception is realized in the mythology of Greece, the idolatry of Moab, or the dogmas of the Pharisees is out of the question. Jesus, however, came to overturn these errors and fearful misrepresentations of the Deity, and save the world by proving that God was kind and loving, just and faithful, and therefore deserving of men’s love and trust. It is most interesting to study the character of God according to the teaching of Jesus. He represented the Divine Being as a Father who yearned for the return of his prodigal child, welcomed him home, receiving him with open arms and open heart, bidding all his household help him to tell the world his joy, “Rejoice with me, for this my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.” He represented God as the Good Shepherd, who goes after the lost one until it is found, and bears it to His home upon His shoulders with rejoicing. He represented God as the Good Samaritan who saw men lying in their wounds, robbed by sin of hope and heaven, upon the point of death, and came to save them at his own expense.
III. Love in its widest field of operation. This widest field is the world, for “God so loved the world.” It is evident that the text cannot mean merely to assert that God loved and admired the material world or the things of the world, as these need no salvation, and are not capable of being saved, and the love of God to the world, in the text, is said to have special reference to its salvation. As the pious Jew of old rambled among the ruins of his glorious temple, turning over with affection its broken columns, cherishing the very dust and stone thereof; so God in Christ, with His loving heart overflowing with sympathy and affection, seeks to gather the broken fragments of humanity together, and rebuild upon a surer basis the temple of man. As mother, sister, or wife walks in the field of blood after the day of dreadful slaughter, with tears of affection flowing from her eyes, the sigh of sorrow rising from her wounded heart and floating upwards to tell its grief to God, and with tenderness of touch turns over the forms of the dead, that she may press once more to her heart, now broken, the object of her warm affection; so God is represented as amid the carnage which sin has made of us, inspired by the love of which my text is speaking, toiling and labouring and suffering, having come to seek and to save those who were lost. “God so loved the world!” This is the source from which all our blessings flow.
- Love in its noblest intention. 1. The sad condition of those whom it proposes to affect—“should not perish.” The objects of His love are perishing—perishing, not in body but in soul. 2. The glorious state to which the love of God proposes to raise all He found in this sad condition, “but have everlasting life.” Life, even of a temporal character, is of so much value that men toil and labour and manifest the deepest concern, in order, not to perpetuate it, but merely to prolong it for a few years. 3. The simple way in which we may become eternally benefited by this saving work of God, “whosoever believeth in Him.” What an awful curse is unbelief! 4. The impartial manner in which these blessings are offered, “whosoever.” Were man to make a feast, his invitations would not be to every one, for his ability to provide would have a limit. The richest man could not make a feast for all. But God is not man that He should be deficient. (E. Lewis, B.A.)
God’s love for a sinning world:—
- Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. 1. It is the violation of an infinitely important law—a law designed and adapted to secure the highest good of the universe. 2. As sin is this it cannot be treated lightly. The entire welfare of a government and its subjects turns upon obedience. 3. The law of God must not be dishonoured by anything He shall do. He must stand by it to retrieve its honour. 4. Hence the expense. Either the law must be executed at the expense of the race, or God must suffer the worse results of disrespect to His law, or a substitute be provided who shall both save the sinner and honour the law.
- How shall the expense be met? Who shall head the subscription? The Father made the first donation. 1. He gave His Son to make the atonement due to law. 2. He gave His Spirit to take charge of this work.
III. For whom was the great donation made? By the “world” cannot be meant any particular part. The Bible and the nature of the case shows that the atonement must have been made for the whole. Otherwise no man could be sure that it was made for himself.
- What prompted God to make it? Love. This love is—1. Not complacency, or it would have been infinitely disgraceful to Himself. 2. Not mere feeling, as in those who are carried away by strong emotion. But—3. Disinterested: for He had nothing to hope or fear; no profit to make out of the saved. 4. Zealous. 5. Most self-denying. 6. Universal because particular. God loved each, therefore all. 7. Most patient.
- The gift of God must be received by faith. This is the only possible way. God’s government is moral because the Saviour is a moral agent. Therefore God cannot influence us unless we give Him our confidence. Lessons: 1. Sinners may place themselves beyond the reach of mercy. 2. This involves them in the greatest responsibility. 3. This responsibility can only be discharged and the sinner saved by accepting the donation of Christ. 4. Accepting that donation let us give it to others. (C. G. Finney, D.D.)
God’s wonderful love:—
- Its characteristics. 1. Eternal: “loved.” Who can tell when it began? 2. Compassionate: “the world.” 3. Unspeakable: “so.”
- Its manifestation. 1. Condescending. 2. Sacrificial. 3. Exhaustive.
III. Its purpose. 1. Broad: “whosoever.” 2. Limited: “believeth.” 3. Blessed. (1) Negative: “should not perish.” (2) Positive: “have everlasting life.” (R. S. MacArthur, D.D.)
The love of God self-originated:—The ocean is always moving, but it is not self-moving. The cause of its movements is outside itself, in the moon, and in the wind. Did the wind and the moon let it alone, the Atlantic would for ever be a pacific ocean, quiet, restful, pellucid as an inland lake; it has no power to heave itself. But as for the shoreless sea of the Divine Love, it has the power to move itself; and it did move itself. It rolled in a grand irresistible current towards the shores of our world. Like the Divine Essence, the Divine Love possesses the power of self-determination. (J. C. Jones, D.D.)
God’s love for sinners:—I remember the case of a young man who was afflicted with a frightfully loathsome disease. He had to be kept out of sight. But was he neglected? No. I need not tell you who looked after him. There was not a morning but his loving mother bathed his wounds and swathed his limbs, and not an evening that she wearied in her toil. Do you think she had not natural sensitiveness? I knew her to be as sensitive as any lady; but by so much more as she felt the loathsomeness of her work do you see the love that constantly upheld her in doing it. But oh! what is the loathsomeness of cankered wounds compared with the loathsomeness of sin to God? There is but one thing that God hates, and that is sin. Yet with all His hatred of sin how He hangs over the sinner! (S. Coley.)
The power of God’s love:—We often hear of counter currents, but was there ever such a counter current as is implied here! One of the most important and wonderful ocean currents is the Gulf Stream. It takes its rise in the Gulf of Mexico and sweeps across through the heart of the mighty Atlantic to the Arctic Seas; and by its strong currents, more rapid than that of the Mississippi, it engulfs every other ocean stream that comes athwart its course, making it tributary to its own grand mission of washing the shores and ameliorating the climate of the sea-bound countries of Europe. “So God loved the world.” His love is a mighty stream of warm, generous commiseration sweeping with mighty force towards that moral Arctic Sea sin has made of our world. And such was the strength of the current that it swept into its own bosom the mighty stream of God’s love of complacency towards His only begotten Son, so that He was borne on its bosom into this world, where, by suffering and death, He became “the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him.” (A. J. Parry.)
The love of God:—In human governments, justice is central, and love incidental. In the Divine government, love is the central element, and justice only incidental. God wishes to exhaust all means of kindness before His hand takes hold on justice. When the waves of penalty begin to come in in fearful tides, then He banks up against them. His goodness is the levee between justice and the sinful soul. (H. W. Beecher.)
God is love:—God is love, and there is a something about love which always wins love. When love puts on her own golden armour, and bears her sword bright with her own unselfishness, she goeth on conquering and to conquer. Let a man once apprehend that God is love, that this is God’s very essence, and he must at once love God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A royal gift:—Plutarch, the Greek historian, tells a story to this effect: “An ancient king once gave a present of a large sum of money to a personal friend, and was gently taken to task for his generosity. ‘What!’ was his astonished exclamation, ‘would you not have me be liberal? Let the world know that when the king gives he gives generously, like a king.’ ” Upon this, he made a second present of equal value.
Faith in Christ is certain salvation:—We lately read in the papers an illustration of the way of salvation. A man had been condemned in a Spanish court to be shot, but being an American citizen and also of English birth, the consuls of the two countries interposed, and declared that the Spanish authorities had no power to put him to death. What did they do to secure his life when their protest was not sufficient? They wrapped him up in their flags, they covered him with the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack, and defied the executioners. “Now fire a shot if you dare, for if you do so, you defy the nations represented by those flags, and you will bring the powers of those two great empires upon you.” There stood the man, and before him the soldiery, and though a single shot might have ended his life, yet he was as invulnerable as though encased in triple steel. Even so Jesus Christ has taken my poor guilty soul ever since I believed in Him, and has wrapped around me the blood-red flag of His atoning sacrifice, and before God can destroy me or any other soul that is wrapped in the atonement, He must insult His Son and dishonour His sacrifice, and that He will never do, blessed be His name. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Believe only:—It is said that some years ago a vessel sailing on the northern coast of the South American continent, was observed to make signals of distress. When hailed by another vessel, they reported themselves as “Dying for water!” “Dip it up then,” was the response, “you are in the mouth of the Amazon river.” There was fresh water all around them, they had nothing to do but to dip it up, and yet they were dying of thirst, because they thought themselves to be surrounded by the salt sea. How often are men ignorant of their mercies? How sad that they should perish for lack of knowledge! Jesus is near the seeker even when he is tossed upon oceans of doubt. The sinner has but to stoop down and drink and live. (Ibid.)
We must believe or perish:—When a shipwrecked sailor, left to the mercy of the waves, has no help within reach or view but a spar or mast, how will he cling to it, how firmly he will clasp it—he will hold it as life itself. If a passing billow sweep him from it, with all his might he will make for it again, and grasp it faster than ever. To part is to perish; and so he clings—and how anxiously! So the awakened sinner feels. The ocean of wrath surrounds him; its billows and its waves go over him. Hell yawns beneath to engulf him. The vessel is an utter wreck. All its floating timbers are very rottenness. Oh, how he strains his eye searching for a mast, a plank, a spar! His eye rests on the only hope, the only rock in the wide ocean of wrath, the Rock of Ages, the Lord Jesus. He makes for the Saviour—he clasps Him—he cleaves to Him. Every terror of sin and of unworthiness that strives to loosen his hold only makes him grasp with more terrible and death-like tenacity, for he knows that to part company is to perish. (R. B. Nichol.)
The love of God is a necessity of His own nature:—“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” &c. The life and death of Christ was but the working out of the love of God. The affection and the yearning of heart towards His erring creatures was just the same in God before Christ came, that Christ showed it to be while He was on earth. It is just the same still. There is no change in God, or in His love. Man nor woman need fear disappointment there. It has been the custom of some, a custom too much prevailing, to represent God as being under no manner of obligation to do anything for His creatures after they had broken His law. The trouble with this statement is that there is a great deal of truth in it; and yet it has been made in such a manner as to give a very wrong impression. In God’s own nature there is a necessity for His efforts for man’s redemption. (H. W. Beecher.)
The word “so”:—Come, ye surveyors, bring your chains, and try to make a survey of this word “so.” Nay, that is not enough. Come hither, ye that make our national surveys, and lay down charts for all nations. Come ye, who map the sea and land, and make a chart of this word “so.” Nay, I must go further. Come hither, ye astronomers, that with your optic glasses spy out spaces before which imagination staggers, come hither and encounter calculations worthy of all your powers! When you have measured between the horns of space, here is a task that will defy you—“God so loved the world.” If you enter into that, you will know that all this love is to you—that while Jehovah loves the world, yet He loves you as much as if there were nobody else in all the world to love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The glory of the Gospel:—It is not like a banquet, accommodated to the tastes and wants of so many and no more. Like a masterpiece of music, its virtues are independent of numbers. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
God’s mercy is free:—Let me tell thee that the mercy of God flows freely. It wants no money and no price from thee, no fitness of frames and feelings, no preparation of good works or penitence. Free as the brook which leaps from the mountain side, at which every weary traveller may drink, so free is the mercy of God. Free as the sun that shineth, and gilds the mountain’s brow, and makes glad the valleys without fee or reward, so free is the mercy of God to every needy sinner. Free as the air which belts the earth and penetrates the peasant’s cottage as well as the royal palace without purchase or premium, so free is the mercy of God in Christ. It tarrieth not for thee: it cometh to thee as thou art. It way layeth thee in love; it meeteth thee in tenderness. Ask not how thou shalt get it. Thou needst not climb to heaven, nor descend to hell for it; the word is nigh thee; on thy lip, and in thy heart if thou believest on the Lord Jesus with thy heart, and with thy mouth makest confession of Him, thou shalt be saved.
What is it to perish:—What is it to perish? It is to die in our sins, without bright angels to smile upon us as they wait to carry us away from earth; to die without the Saviour’s glorious presence to cheer us in the valley of the shadow of death. It is to be turned away from the shut door of our Father’s mercy, because, like the foolish virgins, we are not ready when the bridegroom comes. To perish is to lose the smile of God, the company of the redeemed, the society of angels, the glories of the heavenly world, and, with no ray of comfort or gleam of hope, to be driven away into outer darkness, into misery and woe, without deliverance and without end. The thought of this awful perdition made Jesus weep over Jerusalem and say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem: thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not.” (Rev. R. Brewin.)
Whosoever:—“Whosoever” has a finger for babes, and an arm for old men; it has an eye for the quick, and a smile for the dull. Young men and maidens, whosoever offers its embrace to you! Good and bad, honourable or disreputable, this “whosoever” speaks to you all with equal truth! Kings and queens may find room in it; and so may thieves and beggars. Peers and paupers sit on one seat in this word. “Whosoever” has a special voice for you, my hearer! Do you answer, “But I am an oddity”? “Whosoever” includes all the oddities. I always have a warm side towards odd, eccentric, out-of-the-way people, because I am one myself, at least so I am often said to be. I am deeply thankful for this blessed text; for if I am a lot unmentioned in any other catalogue, I know that this includes me: I am beyond all question under the shade of “whosoever.” No end of odd people come to the Tabernacle, or read my sermons; but they are all within the range of “whosoever.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Whosoever:—When the great mutiny in India had been brought to a close, and peace was being made between the government and the rebels, the Queen caused a proclamation to be made throughout the rebel provinces that all who should lay down their arms, and come to certain appointed places by a fixed day, should receive forgiveness, with some exceptions. Ah! these exceptions. The poor fellows who knew they could not be forgiven, but must be put to death, never came. The love of God knows no exceptions; whosoever will may come. (Ibid.)
Whosoever:—Somebody said he would rather read “Whosoever” than see his own name, because he should be afraid it might refer to some other man who might have the same name. This was well brought out in a prison the other day, when the chaplain said to me, “I want to describe a scene that occurred here some time ago. Our Commissioners went to the Governor of the State and got him to give his consent to grant pardons to five men on account of their good behaviour. The Governor said the record was to be kept secret; the men were to know nothing about it; and at the end of six months the criminals were brought out, the roll was called, and the President of the Commission came up and spoke to them; then putting his hand in his pocket he drew out the papers and said to those 1,100 convicts, ‘I hold in my hand pardons for five men.’ I never witnessed anything like it. Every man held his breath, and was as silent as death. Then the Commissioner went on to tell how they obtained these pardons; that it was the Governor who granted them,” and the chaplain said the suspense was so great that he spoke to the Commissioner and asked him to first read out the names of those who were pardoned before he spoke further, and the first name was given out thus, “Reuben Johnson will come out and get his pardon.” He held out the papers but no one came. He looked all around, expecting to see a man spring forward at once; still no one arose, and he turned to the officer of the prison and said, “Are all the convicts here?” “Yes,” was the reply. “Then, Reuben Johnson will come and get his pardon.” The real Reuben Johnson was all this time looking around to see where Reuben was; and the chaplain beckoned to him, and he turned and looked around and behind him, thinking some other man must be meant. A second time he beckoned to Reuben, and called to him, and the second time the man looked around to see where Reuben was, until at last the chaplain said to him, “You are the man, Reuben;” and he rose up out of his seat and sank back again, thinking it could not be true. He had been there for nineteen years, having been placed there for life; and when he came up and took his pardon he could hardly believe his eyes, and he went back to his seat and wept like a child: and then, when the convicts were marched back to their cells, Reuben had been so long in the habit of falling into line and taking the lock step with the rest that he fell into his place, and the chaplain had to say, “Reuben, come out; you are a free man.” (D. L. Moody.)
The naturalness of God’s love:—When William Knibb had been preaching from this text in Jamaica, returning home he came up with an old black woman, and he said to her, “What do you think of the great love of God?” Simplicity is often allied to sublimity. “Think, massa!” she replied; “Me think it be just like Him.” So it is. St. Peter says, “According to His abundant mercy He hath begotten us again.” It is just like Him. It is as a father pitieth his children. (S. Coley.)
Christ not the cause but the manifestation of God’s love:—The law of gravitation existed from the foundation of the world, it daily exerted its influence, keeping the stars in their orbits, and swinging them around their respective centres. The mysterious force, however, was unknown until discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, and published in his writings. It existed from the first; only a century or two ago was it made manifest. In like manner the love of God existed from eternity, from days of old. It burnt as hot in the days of Noah and of Abraham, as on the Incarnation morn or the Atonement eve. All through the ages it governed the world with a view to its final redemption. But in the Incarnation and Propitiation was it revealed, only then did it force itself upon the obtuse vision of the world. “Ye have believed that I came out from God. I came forth from—out of—the Father, and am come into the world.” Not only He came from God, but He came out of God. John the Baptist came from God. (J. C. Jones, D.D.)
The love of God as seen in the gift of Christ:—A story has been often told of the fondness of parents for their children; how in a famine in the East a father and mother were reduced to absolute starvation, and the only possibility of preserving the life of the family was to sell one of the children into slavery. So they considered it. The pinch of hunger became unbearable, and their children pleading for bread tugged so painfully at their heart-strings, that they must entertain the idea of selling one to save the lives of the rest. They had four sons. Who of these should be sold? It must not be the first: how could they spare their firstborn? The second was so strangely like his father that he seemed a reproduction of him, and the mother said that she would never part with him. The third was so singularly like the mother that the father said he would sooner die than that this dear boy should go into bondage; and as for the fourth, he was their Benjamin, their last, their darling, and they could not part with him. They concluded that it were better for them all to die together than willingly to part with any one of their children. Do you not sympathize with them? I see you do. Yet God so loved us that, to put it very strongly, He seemed to love us better than His only Son, and did not spare Him that He might spare us. He permitted His Son to perish from among men “that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The love of God in the gift of Christ:—When Jesus looked at the poor widow He found a new rule of arithmetic. When she dropped in her two mites He said that she had given more than they all. What new rule was this? Many had given much, but the Lord looked at what they had left. This woman had given all. Try God by His own rule. He had but one Son—His only begotten. If He had taken every star from the sky, and manipulated those stars, and moulded them all into a gigantic body of which every star was an atom; and then if He had taken every seraph from His throne and made a mighty amalgam of all souls into one, and had put that giant mind into that gigantic body, and given that body and soul for man, it would have been as nothing to this. A word of His could have restored the dismantled heavens; but God Himself cannot make an only-begotten Son. (S. Coley.)
God’s provision of the sacrifice:—Transport yourselves in imagination to Athens or Rome; observe closely the images of the gods, in motley crowds on either hand of you; see the rivers of red blood flowing towards them. No marvel that “Paul’s spirit was stirred within him as he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” Come with me again to Jerusalem. Behold the image of the invisible God lifted up on Calvary. Does blood flow towards it? No: blood flows from it. Here, then, we have hit upon the radical difference between paganism and Christianity. Blood to the image: that is the essence of paganism. Blood from the image: that is the essence of Christianity. The heathen gods demand a sacrifice, but never provide it; the gospel God both demands it and provides it. “He gave His only-begotten Son.” (J. C. Jones, D.D.)
God’s love and justice in sacrifice:—King Zeleucus decreed that whosoever committed a particular offence should lose his eyes; and the first person found guilty was his own son. What a company would be gathered, and what an anxious inquiry there would be! What will the king do? Will he set aside the law because the offender is royal? Amid the hush of that gathered company the officer sternly commanded to do his duty dashed out one of the prince’s eyes. “Stop,” said the king, “take the other from me.” This was done. This will show that the love of the king was seen all the more from the justice of his administration. (S. Coley.)
- Its origin in the love of God, which will appear after we consider that—1. Man by nature is in a state of degradation and spiritual death by reason of sin. 2. The essential means of salvation is the free gift of God.
- The manifestation of this love. Observe—1. The gift. 2. The faithfulness of the Father in this transaction. 3. The part which the Son took in this stupendous work. 4. The necessity of this gift.
III. The means by which we become personally interested in this gift. 1. There must be repentance. 2. There must be faith. (J. Gaskin, M.A.)
The cost and cheapness of salvation:—A preacher had gone down into a coal mine during the noon-hour to tell the miners of the glad tidings of salvation. Meeting the foreman on his way back to the shaft he asked him what he thought of God’s manner of saving men. “Oh, it is too cheap, I cannot believe in such a religion as that.” Without an immediate reply to his remark the preacher asked, “How do you get out of this place?” “Simply by getting into the cage,” was the reply. “And does it take long to get to the top?” “Oh, no; only a few seconds.” “Well, that certainly is very easy and simple. But do you not need help to raise yourself?” said the preacher. “Of course not,” replied the miner, “As I have said, you have nothing to do but to get into the cage.” “But what about the people who sunk the shaft, and perfected all this arrangement? Was there much labour or expense about it?” “Yes, indeed; that was a laborious and expensive work. The shaft is a thousand feet deep, and it was sunk at great cost to the proprietors; but it is our way out, and without it we should never be able to get to the surface.” “Just so,” and when God’s Word tells you that whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life, you say, “Too cheap,” forgetting that God’s work to bring you and others out of the pit of destruction was accomplished at a vast cost, the price being the death of His only-begotten Son. (W. Baxendale.)
Redemption through Christ:—
- Men need deliverance from death.
- God’s love is so great as to prompt to deliverance.
III. This deliverance has been wrought out by self-sacrifice on the part of God.
- This deliverance is made ours by a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (C. D. Barrows.)
- The doctrine. “God so loved,” &c. 1. The first cause of redemption—the love of God to man. Christ died not that God might, but because He did love us. (1) This is a doctrine distinctive of the Bible. You find it nowhere else. Men talk about the mercy of God, but if we give up the ideas of God obtained from the Scriptures how do we know that He is a God of love? What is there in nature to suggest it? There we see the reign of law: sin and suffer. (2) The presence of such a truth in the Bible forms one of the most powerful vindications of its authority. If it contained nothing different from other books we might reasonably question its Divine origin. (3) But familiarity has deadened the force and beauty of this great Bible truth in those who have heard it so often. (4) Here, however, is the marvel of marvels—standing alone in the universe—that God loves a race that has defied and insulted Him. 2. The mode of human redemption. God’s love could not be a powerless thing dealing in fine sentiment and words of pity. It had a great end in view which could only be secured by an unparalleled sacrifice. “He gave His only begotten Son.” (1) The designation of the Redeemer is peculiar and significant. Unlike other sons, He has a position of His own, and His name is an incidental but most powerful proof of His Divinity. (2) The Redeemer was “given,” not to be a mere teacher or example, but to be the propitiation for sin. 3. The extent of human redemption. It would not be easy to find language more free and comprehensive than “the world, … whosoever.” All are not saved, but none need be unpardoned. An universal need is here universally provided for.
- The duty. God has lavished the love of His heart on us and requires the trust and love of ours. Nothing can be simpler or more common than trust, the child’s first lesson and act. This is illustrated in the miracles of Christ. Only believe that Jesus has the will and the power to save and your confidence will not be disappointed. 1. Faith is different from knowledge. Yet there must be some knowledge. But there may be little knowledge and strong faith, and much knowledge and no faith. There are many well-instructed people who shrink from the thought of infidelity. Yet infidelity is the want of trust in God and Christ. Faith is the soul’s own rest in Jesus as its own Redeemer. 2. The text makes no distinction in the kind or degree of faith. It is doubtless better to have a firm than a weak faith. Still, if a man have faith at all he will be saved.
III. The promise. “Eternal life.” 1. A present realization. 2. “More abundantly” hereafter. Of this the unbeliever is deprived in time and eternity. He that believeth not is dead already. (J. Guiness Rogers, B.A.)
The Christian’s creed:—
- Its first article is—God loves the world. Easy to say, impossible to realize in all its augustness. The great question is, What does God feel? Agnostics do not know whether He is force or Father. But when they cannot tell what you yearn to know Jesus comes, and there is light over all the darkness and despair of life. On any lips this would be a wonderful word, but in the lips of Christ “love” meant all that was in His own heart. Himself the embodiment of love, He lifts our eyes to heaven and says, God loves, not made, rules, judges, but loves; and not the Church, but the world, and every individual in it. Mankind is not a larger family for God to love than is yours for you.
- Its second article is—God has given us His Son. Love is ever giving. It gives its best. Our best earthly gifts are our friends, and God gives us the best friend. And He is ours absolutely, individually, and for ever—all He is and all He has. Value the gift which cost God so much.
III. The third article is—Whosoever believeth in Christ, &c. The condition upon which we are to receive salvation is universally practicable. If there were any other it would shut some one out. All our training in this world is a training for faith. All the joys of life are joys of trust. It is not a question whether faith shall be the condition of salvation. It is a necessity in the nature of things. If you suspect any you shrink from them. Doubt is the great gulf fixed between you and God, but faith is the link which binds us to Him. All that is needed, therefore, is the entrustment of the heart to God. Conclusion: That is our creed. 1. Repent of treating it so negligently. 2. Be not ashamed of it. 3. Fear not its future. Man will want no new one until all that wakes up our need of Christ is destroyed. (R. Glover.)
- The everlasting Father.
- The everlasting Son. III. The everlasting love.
- The everlasting life. (J. C. Jones.)
The morality of the Evangelical faith:—I. In these words I find my religion, theology, ethics, and politics, politics being one of the chief branches of ethics. 1. The Divine love for mankind. 2. The mission of the love of God for salvation. 3. Faith in the Son of God the condition of salvation. 4. Eternal life the gift of Divine love to all who believe in Christ. II. Evangelical Christians have claimed one of these truths as pre-eminently their own. Faith in Christ as the condition of salvation is the very heart of the Gospel. Whitefield the Calvinist and Wesley the Arminian differed on many points, but when a man asked, “What must I do to be saved?” each gave the same answer. III. Luther maintained that justification by faith was the test of a standing or a falling Church. We go further. It is as necessary to preach that men are sanctified by faith. Faith is the root of morality as well as the condition of pardon. Heb. 11., which illustrates the triumphs of faith, is an unfinished fragment. You must add to it the story of the saintliness, heroism, righteousness, and charity of sixty generations; even then it remains a fragment still. IV. To believe in Christ—what is it? Not the mere acceptance, however cordial, of the Christian creed. It is to have confidence in Christ, unreserved, unqualified, unmeasured. Whatever dignity Christ claims, faith reverently acknowledges. Whatever relations He assumes to God and to man, it concedes. Whatever authority He asserts, it submits to. When He teaches, faith admits His teaching as absolute truth. When He commands, faith accepts His precepts as the perfect law of life. When He promises, faith relies on Him to fulfil. To admit some of Christ’s claims and to reject the rest; to listen to His declarations that His blood is shed for the remission of sins; to refuse to listen, or to listen incredulously, when He speaks as the moral ruler of the race, this is inconsistent with faith in Him. (R. W. Dale, D.D.)
The power of this gospel of love on its first proclamation:—If we could but hear the words for the first time, and without prepossessions either of Pharisaic error or logical orthodoxy, hear them with nothing but consciousness of sin and thirst for life, before the love of God had been hardened into doctrine, and the only begotten Son has become a quarrel for the schools. “Do your gods love you?” asked a missionary of some Indians. “The gods never think of loving,” was the cheerless answer. The text before us was read. “Read it again,” asked the arrested pagan. “That is large light, read it again.” A third time the blessed words were repeated; and with this emphatic response, “That is true, I feel it.” On one occasion a missionary was dictating to a native amanuensis the translation of the First Epistle, and when he reached the passage, “Now are we the sons of God,” the poor child of heathenism burst into tears, and exclaimed, “It is too much, it is too much; let me put it, Now are we permitted to kiss His feet.” (A. J. Morris.)
God’s love for man:—The missionary Nott was once reading and explaining this passage to some awakened Tahitians. One of his auditors asked: “Is it then really true that God has so loved you and us that He gave His only begotten Son for us?” Nott stedfastly affirmed that the gospel which he was preaching was really true; upon which the Tahitian cried out: “Oh, and thou canst speak of such love without tears!”—himself weeping from shame and joy. (R. Besser, D.D.)
The love of God:—When Bonplau the botanist climbed one of the loftiest peaks of the Andes, he found it a volcano. The rim of the crater was covered with scoriæ, and everything that looked like blasting and desolation, but just in one little crevice there was a tiny bright flower. There it grew in beauty. Like enough the seed had dropped from a bird. The shower had fallen, the sun had shone, and the flower had grown there waving in the wind amidst surrounding desolation. The flower growing there on the rim of that fire funnel is something like the grand and beautiful love of God. He has planted flowers on the rim of perdition, on the very edge of that rim. (S. Coley.)
Whosoever:—When John Williams sailed in his missionary ship, he said as he touched a shore where he had never been before, where no foot of white man had ever trod, wherever he preached for the first time he had this for his text. No text could bear him beyond this. He could stand anywhere, on any shore, and cry, “God so loved the world.” (Ibid.)
Whosoever:—“I thank God for this word ‘whosoever,’ ” remarked Richard Baxter, “did it read, there is mercy for Richard Baxter, I am so vile, so sinful, that I would have thought it must have meant some other Richard Baxter; but this word ‘whosoever’ includes the worst of all the Baxters that ever lived.”
The universality of the atonement:—Suppose a will is made by a rich man bequeathing certain property to certain unknown persons, described only by the name of “the elect.” They are not described otherwise than by this term, and all agree that although the maker of the will had the individuals definitely in his mind, yet that he left no description of them, which either the persons themselves, the courts, nor any living mortal can understand. Now such a will is of necessity altogether null and void. No living man can claim under such a will, and none the better though these elect were described as residents of Oberlin. Since it does not embrace all the residents of Oberlin, and does not define which of them, all is lost. All having an equal claim and none any definite claim, none can inherit. If the atonement were made in this way, no living man would have any valid reason for believing himself one of the elect, prior to his reception of the Gospel. Hence he would have no authority to believe and receive its blessings by faith. In fact, the atonement must be wholly void—on this supposition—unless a special revelation is made to the persons for whom it is intended. (C. G. Finney, D.D.)
The personal appropriation of the atonement:—During a revival season, a young man came to me in the inquiry room, and showed me a card like the following:
GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, THAT BELIEVING ON HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.
In the blank space, the young man had written his own name in full. Said he: “My superintendent gave me this card on condition that I would write my name in the blank space. If I had known what it was, I never would have promised; for I have had no peace since that day.” That night, on his knees, he found peace. Let the teacher prepare such cards, and try the plan. I have tried it with powerful effect. It makes this seem personal, and puts “me” in the place of “whosoever.” (A. F. Schauffer.)
A mother’s lesson:—A young soldier was shot on the battlefield, and dragged by a comrade aside to die. He shut his eyes, and all his past life flashed before him. It seemed but an instant of time. He looked forward and saw eternity, like a great gulf, ready to swallow him up, with his sins as so many weights sinking him deeper and deeper. Suddenly a lesson, which his pious mother taught him when a little boy at her knee, stood before him in shining letters. It was a lesson he heard repeated again and again and again; she was never tired of imprinting it on his memory before she died; it was her only legacy. In the gaiety of life he had forgotten it. He had lost his hold on it, but it had never quite lost its hold on him; and now, in the hour of peril, it threw out to him a rope of mercy. What was it? “God so loved the world,” &c. He caught the rope; it seemed let down from heaven. “Lord, I believe,” he cried; “save me, or I perish!” Till he died, a few hours after, he said little but this one prayer: “Lord, I believe; save me, or I perish!” a prayer never uttered by the penitent soul in vain. (Clerical Anecdotes.)
16. The evangelist begins his comments with the much-loved words For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Traditionally, the first part of 3:16 has been interpreted so as to highlight the ‘degree’ of God’s love for the world, that is, ‘how much’ he loved the world: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. While it is true that the degree of God’s love for the world was demonstrated by his giving his Son (cf. Rom. 5:8), this may not be what the evangelist is saying here. The word translated so (understood by many to mean ‘so much’) is houtōs, a word used frequently elsewhere in the Gospel of John, but never to denote degree (how much) but always manner (in what way) (3:8, 14; 4:6; 5:21, 26; 7:46; 11:48; 12:50; 13:25; 14:31; 15:4; 18:22; 21:1).
Further, houtōs indicating ‘in what way’ always refers back to something previously mentioned, not something about to be explained. Allowing these things to guide us, we would translate the first part of 3:16 as follows: ‘For in this way [referring to something already mentioned] God loved the world.’ An understanding of the way God loved the world would, then, be sought in the preceding verses, 3:14–15, where Jesus speaks of the Son of Man being ‘lifted up’ just as the snake was lifted up on the pole by Moses, something God allowed to show his love of the world. This means that the rest of 3:16 really belongs with what follows in 3:17. The thought of 3:14–17, then, could be set out as follows, the two main clauses shown in italics:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,
in this way the Son of Man must be lifted up,
that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
For in this way God loved the world so that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.
There are no great theological differences between this approach and the more traditional approach to these verses, but it is probably closer to the meaning of what the evangelist wrote in this passage.
When the evangelist says For God so loved the world, the word world signifies humanity in general. It was God’s love for all humanity that led him to give his one and only (ton monogenē) Son. In some older translations monogenēs is translated as ‘only begotten’, but this is misleading, for the word monogenēs emphasizes uniqueness not ‘begottenness’ (see ‘Additional note: monogenēs’, pp. 65–66). What the text is saying, therefore, is that God had only one Son and, because of his love for humanity, he gave him to make eternal life available to the world.
The purpose for his giving his only Son was so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. To have eternal life involves being born of the Spirit and knowing God, that is, being in relationship with him and experiencing all the blessings which flow from that, both in the present age and in the age to come (see ‘Additional note: eternal life’, pp. 121–122). To perish means to miss out on these blessings, both now and in the age to come, because the wrath of God remains upon us (3:36).
On the human side, the key to experiencing eternal life is believing. The word ‘to believe’ (pisteuō) is used in a number of ways in the Gospel of John, but in 3:16 it denotes believing in the person of Jesus. However, this cannot be divorced from belief in his words, because knowledge of his person is mediated through his words.
16. For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Saviour. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. And this order ought to be carefully observed; for such is the wicked ambition which belongs to our nature, that when the question relates to the origin of our salvation, we quickly form diabolical imaginations about our own merits. Accordingly, we imagine that God is reconciled to us, because he has reckoned us worthy that he should look upon us. But Scripture everywhere extols his pure and unmingled mercy, which sets aside all merits.
And the words of Christ mean nothing else, when he declares the cause to be in the love of God. For if we wish to ascend higher, the Spirit shuts the door by the mouth of Paul, when he informs us that this love was founded on the purpose of his will, (Eph. 1:5.) And, indeed, it is very evident that Christ spoke in this manner, in order to draw away men from the contemplation of themselves to look at the mercy of God alone. Nor does he say that God was moved to deliver us, because he perceived in us something that was worthy of so excellent a blessing, but ascribes the glory of our deliverance entirely to his love. And this is still more clear from what follows; for he adds, that God gave his Son to men, that they may not perish. Hence it follows that, until Christ bestow his aid in rescuing the lost, all are destined to eternal destruction. This is also demonstrated by Paul from a consideration of the time; for he loved us, while we were still enemies by sin, (Rom. 5:8, 10.) And, indeed, where sin reigns, we shall find nothing but the wrath of God, which draws death along with it. It is mercy, therefore, that reconciles us to God, that he may likewise restore us to life.
This mode of expression, however, may appear to be at variance with many passages of Scripture, which lay in Christ the first foundation of the love of God to us, and show that out of him we are hated by God. But we ought to remember—what I have already stated—that the secret love with which the Heavenly Father loved us in himself is higher than all other causes; but that the grace which he wishes to be made known to us, and by which we are excited to the hope of salvation, commences with the reconciliation which was procured through Christ. For since he necessarily hates sin, how shall we believe that we are loved by him, until atonement has been made for those sins on account of which he is justly offended at us? Thus, the love of Christ must intervene for the purpose of reconciling God to us, before we have any experience of his fatherly kindness. But as we are first informed that God, because he loved us, gave his Son to die for us, so it is immediately added, that it is Christ alone on whom, strictly speaking, faith ought to look.
He gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him may not perish. This, he says, is the proper look of faith, to be fixed on Christ, in whom it beholds the breast of God filled with love: this is a firm and enduring support, to rely on the death of Christ as the only pledge of that love. The word only-begotten is emphatic, (ἐμφατικὸν,) to magnify the fervour of the love of God towards us. For as men are not easily convinced that God loves them, in order to remove all doubt, he has expressly stated that we are so very dear to God that, on our account, he did not even spare his only-begotten Son. Since, therefore, God has most abundantly testified his love towards us, whoever is not satisfied with this testimony, and still remains in doubt, offers a high insult to Christ, as if he had been an ordinary man given up at random to death. But we ought rather to consider that, in proportion to the estimation in which God holds his only-begotten Son, so much the more precious did our salvation appear to him, for the ransom of which he chose that his only-begotten Son should die. To this name Christ has a right, because he is by nature the only Son of God; and he communicates this honour to us by adoption, when we are ingrafted into his body.
That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favour of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.
Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is given to us by the Father—that is, as having freed us from the condemnation of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ.
Still it is not yet very evident why and how faith bestows life upon us. Is it because Christ renews us by his Spirit, that the righteousness of God may live and be vigorous in us; or is it because, having been cleansed by his blood, we are accounted righteous before God by a free pardon? It is indeed certain, that these two things are always joined together; but as the certainty of salvation is the subject now in hand, we ought chiefly to hold by this reason, that we live, because God loves us freely by not imputing to us our sins. For this reason sacrifice is expressly mentioned, by which, together with sins, the curse and death are destroyed. I have already explained the object of these two clauses, which is, to inform us that in Christ we regain the possession of life, of which we are destitute in ourselves; for in this wretched condition of mankind, redemption, in the order of time, goes before salvation.
THE LOVE OF GOD
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’
All great men and women have had their favourite texts, but this has been called ‘everybody’s text’. Herein for every one of us is the very essence of the gospel. This text tells us certain great things.
(1) It tells us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be paciﬁed, as if he had to be persuaded to forgive. Sometimes the picture is drawn of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus. Sometimes the Christian message is presented in such a way that it sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God to men and women from condemnation to forgiveness. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son, and he sent him because he loved the world he had created. At the back of everything is the love of God.
(2) It tells us that the mainspring of God’s being is love. It is easy to think of God as looking at human beings in their heedlessness and their disobedience and their rebellion and saying: ‘I’ll break them: I’ll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back.’ It is easy to think of God as seeking human allegiance in order to satisfy his own desire for power and for what we might call a completely subject universe. The tremendous thing about this text is that it shows us God acting not for his own sake but for ours; not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring a universe to heel, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch who treats each individual as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not smash people into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.
(3) It tells us of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and the unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, those who love God and those who never think of him, those who rest in the love of God and those who spurn it—all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As St Augustine had it: ‘God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.’
The Greatest Verse in the Bible
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Because so many Americans watch sports events, Christians often attempt to present some kind of gospel witness in stadiums and arenas. Perhaps you have seen the signs, held up in the crowd or posted on a wall. Most commonly, the signs have this short message: JN 3:16. The idea is obviously that people either know or will find out that JN is shorthand for the Gospel of John, and that 3:16 means chapter 3, verse 16. The hope is that great things will happen if people will merely pick up a Bible and read this one verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Some people argue that Genesis 1:1 is the most important verse in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Others say the Ten Commandments are most important. Significant as it is to learn that our world has a Creator and to know what is right and wrong, however, these truths can be known without the Bible. Nature itself reveals its Maker, and all mankind has an inward conviction about morality. But John 3:16 presents a message that cannot be known apart from the Bible. How does God feel about us, and what has he done, if anything, to help us? There is no greater question and no more glorious answer than that given in John 3:16. Bruce Milne says that it “is a masterly and moving summary of the gospel, cast in terms of the love of God.” Martin Luther called this verse “the Bible in miniature,” because it contains the heart of God’s entire message. This is why John 3:16 is the greatest verse in the Bible.
God’s Amazing Love
Another way to see the greatness of John 3:16 is to point out that it presents the Bible’s greatest theme: God’s love for us through Jesus Christ. Naturally, John is not the only biblical writer to extol God’s love, and we can profit from looking at how others describe it.
Paul says that God’s love is great: “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5). We tend to overuse the word great. We say that we had a “great time” if we enjoyed ourselves at all. If God blesses us a bit in ministry, we say that we had a “great success.” Overused like this, the word great loses some of its force. But when the Bible says that God’s love is great, it means it! We see that God’s love for the world is great in the amazing care he exercised in creating it; nature reveals the marks of the most loving craftsmanship. The Greek word that Paul uses for great (pollein) is used to describe an overflowing harvest or intense emotions. God’s love truly deserves to be called great.
Paul elsewhere describes God’s love as unfathomable. In the third chapter of Ephesians, he prays that believers “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18–19). What we are to comprehend about the dimensions of God’s love is that they are beyond measure. It is possible to exhaust the love of a spouse, friends, or even parents. But it is not possible to exhaust the love of God. Frederick M. Lehman wrote:
The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.
God’s love is joined to all his other attributes. A great mistake that many make is to pit one of God’s attributes against another. Many of us, for instance, prefer God’s love to God’s holiness. But we must never think that we must or even can choose between the two. God’s holiness is a loving holiness, and God’s love is a holy love. Our generation has spoiled much of the idea of love—particularly romantic love—by joining it with sin. But God does not and cannot do that. His love is joined to holy purposes, and his love for us will have the ultimate result of bringing us to a gloriously holy condition. When I am counseling couples before their marriage, I often hear one of them (usually the bride) say, “I never want to change him!” I always pause, lean forward, look her in the eye, and say, “You will! You will!” God’s love never says, “I don’t want to change you.” Because God’s love is holy, he intends to change us by loving means, so that we will become the holy people that we were always meant to be.
God is almighty, and therefore his is an almighty love. This means that he is able to do all that his love desires for us. J. I. Packer writes that God’s love “has at its heart an almighty purpose to bless which cannot be thwarted.” Who, then, can separate us from this love? Paul asks (Rom. 8:35). “I am sure,” he answers, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38–39).
Moreover, as God is unchangeable, so also his love is unchangeable. John Owen writes, “Though we change every day, yet his love does not change. If anything in us or on our part could stop God loving us, then he would long ago have turned away from us. It is because his love is fixed and unchangeable that the Father shows us infinite patience and forbearance. If his love was not unchangeable, we would perish.”
God is eternal, and so is his love. Paul teaches, “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God’s love for us originated in eternity past, and its end flows to eternity future. God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you” (Isa. 54:10). Moreover, as God is sovereign, so is his love. Ephesians 1:4–6 explains, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.” James Montgomery Boice writes, “God’s love is a sovereign love.… His love is uninfluenced by anything in the creature. And if that is so, it is the same as saying that the cause of God’s love lies only in himself.… In Scripture no cause for God’s love other than his electing will is ever given.” This was God’s explanation to Israel for the love he showed the people in the exodus: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you” (Deut. 7:7–8).
Finally, we should note that God’s love is infinite. There is no greater proof of this idea than John’s statement that God loved the world. There is an infinite distance between God and this wicked world, but God’s love is infinitely great to span that distance. God tells us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). But he still loves us! Our world has rebelled against God, flouting his authority and mocking his ways. Most people reject God’s rule over their lives. Paul notes, “Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). That is an accurate description of our world today. The distance between us and God is infinite in every way, yet God has loved the world.
When John speaks of “the world,” he is being intentionally provocative. Old Testament Jews believed that God loved them, but rejected the idea that God loved anyone else. Leon Morris explains, “It is a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all people. His love is not confined to any national group or spiritual elite.” The same is true today. John does not say that God loves religious people or that God loves Christians, but that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). This is why the message of Jesus Christ is good news for everyone. Romans 5:8 tells us, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God’s Giving Love
This brings us to the particular point that John 3:16 stresses: God’s love is a giving love. The Greek language has four words for love. The first is storge, which is family love. Whatever they think of each other, family members are to be loyal. The second is eros, which is romantic or sexual love. The third kind of love is philos, which is the love of friendship or attraction. The word philosophy means “a love of wisdom.” This is a receiving love; it is based on what we get and how good something or someone makes us feel. But the New Testament stresses a fourth kind of love, using the Greek word agape. This is a giving love. It is not based on what we receive but on what we give. Agape love has its classic definition in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”
The greatness of God’s love for the world is most clearly seen in the gift that he gave: “his only Son.” John says not merely that God loved the world, but that “God so loved the world.” The word so indicates both the manner in which God loved the world—by giving his Son—and the intensity of God’s love for the world. How do we measure God’s love for us? By calculating the infinite value of his precious Son, Jesus Christ.
John refers to Jesus as God’s “only Son.” We are undoubtedly intended to reflect on this truth in light of our love for our own children. Even though we are corrupted by sin, it is natural for us to love our children with great intensity. Mothers exhaust themselves rocking babies to sleep. Fathers spend long hours fixing bikes and playing games that they would have no interest in were it not for their children. Parents weary themselves with extra jobs to clothe and feed and educate their children. To neglect our children, as many do today, is so obviously wrong that it is universally condemned. Nature knows no greater love than that of a parent for his or her child, and Christ is God the Father’s only child. God many times spoke of his love for his Son, and Jesus often basked in the love of his Father. So in giving his only Son, God was truly giving his very heart. John Flavel asks, “Who would part with a son for the sake of his dearest friends? But God gave him to, and delivered him for enemies: O love unspeakable!” God could not possibly love this world more or better than in giving his beloved only Son.
In saying that God gave his only Son, John 3:16 corrects a terribly common mistake in thinking about God the Father. Because Jesus died to satisfy God’s justice, some think God’s love is caused by Christ’s sacrifice and is even reluctant or halfhearted. But John 3:16 teaches exactly the opposite. “The gift of Christ … is the result of God’s love to the world, and not the cause. To say that God loves us because Christ died for us, is wretched theology indeed. But to say that Christ came into the world in consequence of the love of God, is scriptural truth.” God loved this evil world not after but before the Savior came to turn our hearts back to heaven; God’s love is the reason that we can be forgiven and born again to inherit eternal life.
When John says that God “gave” his only Son, exactly what does that mean? According to the Bible, the Father sent the eternal and glorious Son into this world to take our mortal nature, with all the weakness and suffering that involved (see Heb. 2:17). Jesus states thirty-nine times in John’s Gospel that the Father “sent” him into the world with a mission of salvation to perform. God sent him to reveal his truth, to proclaim the good news of salvation, and especially to do the work needed for the salvation of those who believe. J. C. Ryle declares:
Christ is God the Father’s gift to a lost and sinful world. He was given generally to be the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Friend of sinners,—to make an atonement sufficient for all,—and to provide a redemption large enough for all. To effect this, the Father freely gave Him up to be despised, rejected, mocked, crucified, and counted guilty and accursed for our sakes.
This means that when we read that God “gave his only Son,” we should think of the cross where Jesus suffered and died, that we might be forgiven of our sins. So great is his love that if our redemption from sin required the torturous death of his only Son—even the outpouring of his own wrath on his most beloved child—God was willing to give him for this purpose. Jeremiah Burroughs marvels:
Behold the infinite love of God to mankind and the love of Jesus Christ that, rather than God see the children of men to perish eternally, He would send His Son to take our nature upon Him and thus suffer such dreadful things. Herein God shows His love.… It pleased the Father to break His Son and to pour out His blood. Here is the love of God and of Jesus Christ. Oh, what a powerful, mighty, drawing, efficacious meditation this should be to us!”
During the darkest times of World War I, a war that claimed the lives of a shocking number of English sons, a man took his little boy out for a walk at night. The boy noticed that some of the houses had stars in the windows. “That comes from this terrible war, laddie,” the father explained. “It shows that these people have given a son.” They had walked a bit farther when the young boy stopped, and pointed up to the sky where a bright evening star had appeared. He said, “Daddy, God must have given a Son, too.” Leon Morris remarks, “That is it. In the terrible war against evil, God gave his Son. That is the way evil was defeated. God paid the price.”
God’s gift therefore was not only infinite in value, but also perfectly suited to our greatest need. Here again is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” We might prefer that God would do something other than send his only Son to be our Savior. But God’s love addresses our true and greatest need. Whenever the New Testament speaks of God’s love, it almost invariably does so in terms of the atoning work of Christ on the cross. John 3:16 is a typical example. In the previous two verses Jesus told Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (3:14–15). That was an allusion to his death on the cross. This, then, is how the world knows God’s love and receives God’s love: not because we are able to love one another a bit; not because there is beauty in the world; but because God sent Jesus to die for our sins. John writes in his first epistle, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world.… He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10).
Receiving God’s Love
The Puritan John Flavel concluded his study of John 3:16 with three keen observations. First, he says, this verse shows us “the exceeding preciousness of souls, and at what a high rate God values them, that he will give his Son, his only Son out of his bosom, as a ransom for them.” Surely this argues—God’s having given his only Son for the saving of souls—that we ought to labor with all our might to bring people to salvation. John 3:16 says that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is through our witness that they can believe. It is because we take an interest in their souls, because we speak earnestly to them about Jesus, and because we invite them to join us at church and hear God’s Word that souls are saved today. This must apply most urgently to our own children. It is dismaying to see how little interest so many parents take in the souls of their children. Since we love them, and since their souls are so precious to God, we should be especially determined to set them a godly example, to pray with and for them, to teach them God’s Word, and to involve them in the worship and life of the church.
Second, Flavel notes, since God has given us his Son, we may be confident of receiving every other help and mercy we need to endure this life and arrive safely into heaven. Knowing this should give us peace in every storm and confidence in the face of life’s trials. Knowing how much God has already given us—his very best in the person of his own Son—we should trust his love and come to him with a holy boldness in prayer. Paul reasoned, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God will not withhold anything we need, having already given his Son, Jesus, so we should not shrink back from asking for and confidently awaiting anything we truly need.
Third, Flavel observes, “If the greatest love hath been manifested in giving Christ to the world, then it follows that the greatest evil and wickedness is manifested in despising, slighting, and rejecting Christ.” There can be no greater condemnation of our hearts than for us to disregard this amazing love of God in giving his only Son to suffer in our place. What does God ask and expect of us? God demands what love always desires: to be received. Jesus said in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 3:16’s message is that God calls us to believe on Jesus Christ—to receive his love-gift through personal faith in Jesus. If we believe, he promises us “eternal life.” But if we are so hardened of heart to refuse this matchless gift from God, John warns, the result is that we will “perish.” Having spurned God’s love on the cross, we must receive the just penalty for all our sins and especially for the chief sin of rejecting God’s only Son. As the writer of Hebrews warns us, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).
There is one last application for those who believe in Christ and who are thus born again into eternal life. If God loved us by giving us his Son, we ought to love him with all that we have in return.
Shortly after the end of the American Civil War, a man in farm clothes was seen kneeling at a gravestone in the soldier’s cemetery in Nashville. An observer came up and asked, “Is that the grave of your son?” The farmer replied, “No, I have seven children, all of them young, and a wife on my poor farm in Illinois. I was drafted and, despite the great hardship it would cause, I was required to join the Army. But on the morning I was to depart this man, my neighbor’s older son, came over and offered to take my place in the war.” The observer solemnly asked, “What is that you are writing on his grave?” The farmer replied, “I am writing, ‘He died for me.’ ”
With that same devotion, we should love God for his love in giving Jesus Christ to die for us. Like the farmer in the story, we should make an effort to serve the Lord and give a testimony to his love for us. We should further express our devotion by loving others with the same kind of love that God has shown to us. We are to show a love that the world does not know—a love not based on getting, not one that seeks mainly for ourselves, but a love that says, “God has given to me, so I want to love him by giving to others.” This giving love should beautify our marriages, should enliven our friendships, and should glorify God in the church. This was John’s own application in his first epistle, having spoken first of God’s love for us in the giving of his Son: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). If we live out God’s amazing, giving love, that will be our strongest testimony to a loveless world, so that others will learn of God’s amazing love from us, and that by believing in him they, too, will have eternal life.
16 Here the same question arises as in verse 13. Is Jesus still speaking, or does the Gospel writer now intervene to reflect on what has just been said? This time there is no title “Son of man” to assure us that Jesus is still the speaker, and the conjunction “for” (gar) is one of the characteristic ways of introducing authorial comments or narrative asides in this Gospel. Some English versions, therefore, place quotation marks after verse 15, signaling that Jesus’ speech has ended and that what follows are the Gospel writer’s words. The majority, however (including the most recent versions), extend Jesus’ speech to the end of verse 21, and the wisest course is to follow their example. While few interpreters would seriously argue that Jesus actually uttered the words found in verses 16–21 to Nicodemus and his companions at the first Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus has been introduced as “the Word,” the only Revealer of God. It is fair to assume that once he is so introduced all authoritative revelation in the Gospel comes from him, whether through his own lips or the pen of the Gospel writer. Without a clear notice in the text that his speech is over, the reader should keep on listening as to the voice of “the One who came down from heaven, the Son of man,” for only he can speak of “heavenly things” (vv. 12–13). As we have seen, it is still too early in the Gospel for Jesus to use the pronoun “I” in delivering these oracles of God, as if he is God himself, so the text resorts to first-person plurals (as in v. 11) or to the third person (as here). The conjunction “for” does introduce an explanatory comment, but the comment is Jesus’ own. Jesus builds on the language and thought of verses 14 and 15 to explain precisely why “the Son of man must be lifted up” (v. 14). He confirms that the necessity is divine, grounded in “God,” and God’s love for the world. Having looked at the cross from the human side, by a strange analogy with a snake fastened to a pole, he now places it within the eternal purposes of God. The grammar of the verse reflects this, as Jesus echoes the correlative construction of verse 14 (“And just as … so”) with a corresponding one (“God so loved … so that he gave”).
This is the first mention of love in the Gospel of John, and it is rather untypical in that the object of God’s love is “the world” (ton kosmon). Nowhere else in John’s Gospel (or anywhere else in the New Testament!) is God explicitly said to “love” the world, yet it cannot come as a surprise to any reader who remembers that “the world came into being through him” (that is, through the Word, 1:10), and consequently that the world was “his own” (1:11). Jesus has already been identified as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29), and will be identified as “the Savior of the world” (4:42). God’s love for the world, though seldom explicit, is a given. At the same time, God has a unique and specific love for “the One and Only Son.” We have already learned that a “One and Only” shares in a father’s glory (1:14), and that Jesus as God’s “One and Only” is himself God, “right beside the Father” (1:18). Now it becomes explicit that “the One and Only” is God’s “Son” (see 1:34, 49), and that both terms are interchangeable with “Son of man” (vv. 13, 14).
The striking, even shocking, thing about God’s love for the world in relation to God’s love for his “One and Only Son” is that the former takes priority! The verb “to love” (agapan) in this Gospel implies not so much a feeling as a conscious choice. Often it implies a preference for one person or thing or way of life over another.108 The shock of the pronouncement is that here God puts the well-being of “the world” above that of “the One and Only Son.” The notion that God “gave” or “gave up” his only Son points unmistakably to Jesus’ death, confirming the interpretation of “lifted up” (v. 14) as crucifixion. We might have expected “God sent the One and Only Son” (as in 1 Jn 4:9), because “sent” is the operative verb for the mission of Jesus throughout the rest of the Gospel, beginning in the very next verse. But it is important that this first reference to Jesus’ mission specify its purpose as a redemptive mission. The “giving” includes all that the “sending” does and more, for in sending his “One and Only” into the world, God gave him up to death on a cross.111 The analogy that comes to mind is Abraham, and his willingness to offer up his “one and only” son Isaac as a sacrifice in obedience to God (Gen 22:1–14). This analogy, unlike that with Moses and the bronze snake, is never made explicit, but hints elsewhere in the Gospel suggest that what God asked of Abraham was something God himself would do in the course of time. Like the Moses analogy, it has its limits because God is not acting out of obedience to anyone but out of love for the world he has made. But while God’s love is universal, it guarantees eternal life not for the whole world indiscriminately but for “everyone who believes.” The last clause of verse 16 sounds like a refrain, echoing verse 15 with only two small changes: first, it is a matter not simply of “believing” but of “believing in” Jesus; second, to “have eternal life” is further explained by its natural opposite, to “not be lost” (mē apolētai; compare 6:39–40; 10:28; 12:25). This is the first hint of dualism in the discourse. Just as “eternal life” is more than simply the prolongation of physical life, so “being lost” is more than just physical death. It is, as the next verse will show, eternal condemnation and separation from God. There are no “lost sheep” in the Gospel of John (contrast Mt 10:6; 15:24; Lk 15:6), for Jesus’ “sheep” will never be lost and those who are “lost” are not his sheep (see 10:26–28).
16 God loved “the world” (see Additional Note B, pp. 111–13). The Jew was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world. It is a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all people. His love is not confined to any national group or spiritual elite. It is a love that proceeds from the fact that he is love (1 John 4:8, 16). It is his nature to love. He loves people because he is the kind of God he is. John tells us that his love is shown in the gift of his Son. Of this gift Odeberg finely says, “the Son is God’s gift to the world, and, moreover, it is the gift. There are no Divine gifts apart from or outside the one-born (sic) Son.” It should be noticed that God’s love is for “the world”; in recent times some scholars have argued that John sees God’s love as only for believers, but here it is plain that God loves “the world.” In typical Johannine fashion “gave” is used in two senses. God gave the Son by sending him into the world, but God also gave the Son on the cross. Notice that the cross is not said to show us the love of the Son (as in Gal. 2:20), but that of the Father. The atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God. It is not something wrung from him. The Greek construction puts some emphasis on the actuality of the gift: it is not “God loved enough to give,” but “God loved so that he gave.”78 His love is not a vague, sentimental feeling, but a love that costs. God gave what was most dear to him. For “one and only” see on 1:14, and for “believes” on 1:12 (also Additional Note E, pp. 296–98). The death of the Son is viewed first of all in its revelatory aspect; it shows us the love of the Father. Then its purpose is brought out, both negatively and positively. Those who believe on him do not “perish.” Neither here nor anywhere else in the New Testament is the awful reality behind this word “perish” brought out. But everywhere there is the recognition that a dreadful reality awaits the finally impenitent. Believers are rescued from this only by the death of the Son. Because of this they have “eternal life” (see on v. 15). John sets perishing and life starkly over against one another. He knows no other final state.
16 The heart of the gospel is not a philosophical observation about the character of God as love but a declaration of that redemptive love in action. “For God so loved … that he gave.” The Greek verb is agapaō (GK 26). It is common to discuss three Greek words for love: eros, philia (GK 5802), and agapē (GK 27). The first is used of passionate desire (not found in the NT) and the second of a fondness expressed in close relationships. The third word (agapē) was rather weak and colorless in secular Greek, but in the NT it is infused with fresh significance and becomes the one term able to denote the highest form of love. Bible scholar A. M. Hunter highlights the significance of agapē by noting that while eros is all take and philia is give-and-take, agapē is all give.
Love must of necessity give. It has no choice if it is to remain true to its essential character. A love that centers on self is not love at all but a fraudulent caricature of real love. It is instructive to note that only here in the fourth gospel is a result clause placed in the indicative rather than the subjunctive. Brown, 134, notes that this construction stresses the reality of the result: “that he actually gave the only Son.” The Greek monogenēs (GK 3666) means “of sole descent,” i.e., without brothers or sisters; hence the KJV’s “only-begotten” (from the Latin unigenitus). It is also used in the more general sense of “unique,” “the only one of its kind.” Jesus is the sole Son of God the Father. John refers to believers as “children of God” (tekna, GK 5451; 1:12; 11:52), but Jesus is the only Son (huios, GK 5626).
The object of God’s love is “the world” (kosmos, GK 3180). The giving of his Son was for the salvation of the entire human race. H. Sasse concludes that the cosmos epitomizes unredeemed creation, the universe of which Jesus is the light (Jn 8:12) and to which he comes (cf. TDNT 3:893–94). Any attempt to restrict the word kosmos (GK 3180) to the elect ignores the clear use of the term throughout the NT. God gave his Son for the deliverance of all humanity (cf. 2 Co 5:19). This giving extends beyond the incarnation. God gave his Son in the sense of giving unto death as an offering for sin. The universal scope of God’s love would have appeared novel and quite unlikely to the Jewish reader of the first century. After all, was not Israel the recipient of God’s special favor (cf. Ro 3:1–2; 9:3–5)? True; but in Christ all boundaries had been broken down (Eph 2:11–22). God’s love extends to every member of the human race. He died for all (cf. Ro 5:8; 1 Jn 2:2).
God’s role in redemption was the giving of his Son; the role of human beings is to believe. To believe in Christ is to accept and love him (Jn 1:12; 8:42). The Greek expression pisteuō eis (“to believe into”) carries the sense of placing one’s trust into or completely on someone. Paul’s teaching of believers as being “in Christ” is a theological reflection on the same expression. Those who believe in Christ escape destruction and are given “eternal life.” Barrett, 216, writes that “destruction is the inevitable fate of all things and persons separated from God and concentrated upon themselves.” The love of God has made it possible for people to turn from their self-destructive paths and receive from God the gift of everlasting life. This gospel comes as “good news” to all who, recognizing their plight, receive the priceless gift of God, even Jesus Christ, his Son.
The Love of God
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
There are many passages in the Bible that have been chosen by some great person or other as a favorite text. John Wesley often said that his favorite verse was Zechariah 3:2: “Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” David Livingstone preferred the last words of Matthew 28:20: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” John Newton said that his favorite verse was Romans 5:20: “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Luther had Romans 1:17 as his life text: “The righteous will live by faith.” Each of these verses has spoken to some man in his own particular condition and has become for him the greatest text in the Bible. But the verse we come to now is everyone’s text.
There is hardly a place in the world to which the gospel of Jesus Christ has gone that this verse has not become almost instantly known. It is the first verse that translators put into another language. Millions of people have been taught to recite it. It is inscribed on books and buildings. It is reflected in songs. John 3:16! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This great verse with its emphasis upon God’s love and the gift of his love in Jesus Christ is stupendous.
In the early 1960s, the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth was in this country for a series of lectures, speaking in Chicago and in Princeton, New Jersey. There were discussion periods occasionally, connected with these addresses, and at one of the discussion periods an American asked a typically American question: “Dr. Barth, what is the greatest thought that has ever passed through your mind?” Barth paused for quite a long time as he obviously thought about his answer. Then he raised his head and said with grace and childlike simplicity:
Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
This is a truth that Christians in all ages have acknowledged, and the more that they have discovered the person of Jesus Christ in the Bible, the more they have realized it.
I want to look at God’s love in this study, our first study of John 3:16, and I want to begin by reviewing some of the verses that speak about it.
A Great Love
The first verses are Ephesians 2:4–5. These are verses in which the apostle Paul speaks of God’s love, saying, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” These verses tell us that God’s love is great.
In preparation for this study I began to think about the term “great” in ways that I had never done before, and I came to the conclusion that we have lessened the force of what God means by the way we use the word. During the week before I wrote this chapter, I had attended a “Current Events Week” at a Christian school. While there I said that some of the points made by the speakers were “great.” After the meetings were over I told the president of the school that I felt that the points made would have a “great” effect on the students in the weeks and months ahead. Later in the week I attended a Young Life banquet in Philadelphia, and I said in that context that the evening was “great,” that the speakers were “great,” that the program of Young Life was “great.” I used the term honestly. Yet none of these things even begins to measure up to what the Bible means when it says that the love of God is great. God is the master of the understatement. Consequently, when he tells us that his love is great, he is telling us that it is so great that it goes beyond our own ideas of greatness or our own understanding.
John 3:16 was the verse through which D. L. Moody learned to appreciate the greatness of God’s love. Moody had been to Britain in the early days of his ministry and there had met a young English preacher named Henry Moorhouse. One day Moorhouse said to Moody, “I am thinking of going to America.”
“Well,” said Moody, “if you should ever get to Chicago, come down to my church and I will give you a chance to preach.”
Moody did not mean to be hypocritical when he said this, of course. He was merely being polite. Nevertheless, he was saying to himself that he hoped Moorhouse would not come, for Moody had not heard him preach and had no idea of what he would say should he come to Chicago. Sometime later, after Moody had returned home, the evangelist received a telegram that said, “Have just arrived in New York. Will be in Chicago on Sunday. Moorhouse.” Moody was perplexed about what he should do, and to complicate matters he was just about to leave for a series of meetings elsewhere. “Oh, my,” he thought, “here I am about to be gone on Sunday, Moorhouse is coming, and I have promised to let him preach.” Finally he said to his wife and to the leaders of the church, “I think that I should let him preach once. So let him preach once; then if the people enjoy him, put him on again.”
Moody was gone for a week. When he returned he said to his wife, “How did the young preacher do?”
“Oh, he is a better preacher than you are,” his wife said. “He is telling sinners that God loves them.”
“That is not right,” said Moody. “God does not love sinners.”
“Well,” she said, “you go and hear him.”
“What?” said Moody. “Do you mean to tell me that he is still preaching?”
“Yes, he has been preaching all week, and he has only had one verse for a text. It is John 3:16.”
Moody went to the meeting. Moorhouse got up and began by saying, “I have been hunting for a text all week, and I have not been able to find a better text than John 3:16. So I think we will just talk about it once more.” He did. Afterward Moody said it was on that night that he first clearly understood the greatness of God’s love.
The Bible not only says that the love of God is great; it also says that it is infinite. This is what Paul means when he writes in the third chapter of Ephesians that his prayer for Christians is that they “may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18–19). How can we comprehend the infinite love of God? We can know it, but only in part. We have been touched by his love and bathed in part of it; yet the fullness of such love lies forever beyond us as the vastness of the universe lies beyond the finite, probing eye of man. God’s love is boundless and unfathomable.
One of our seldom sung hymns puts this aspect of God’s love in memorable language. It was written by Frederick M. Lehman; but the final stanza was added to the song afterward, when it was found written on the wall of a room of an asylum by a man who, before he died, had obviously come to know the immeasurable extent of God’s love.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell,
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win:
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall for evermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
This is our song, if we have come to know in part that great and immeasurable love of God toward us through Christ Jesus.
A Love That Gives
Third, God not only tells us that his love is great and is infinite, he also tells us that his love is a giving love. This is the heart of John 3:16. How much does God love you? God loves you so much “that he gave his one and only Son.”
We are going to be considering the gift of God in the next study, but we do not want to miss even here the great lesson there is in that statement. Once in the early days of my ministry, when I was still working in Washington, D.C., I became interested in the subject of God’s love and discovered as I studied the Bible that there is hardly a verse in the New Testament, in speaking of God’s love, that does not also speak in the immediate context (and sometimes within a space of a few words) of the cross. How do we know that God loves us? Because we are able to love one another a little bit? Because the world is beautiful? Because we value love? Not at all! We know that God loves us because he has given us his only-begotten, his unique, Son. It is in the face of the selfless, self-sacrificing Jesus Christ that we learn of God’s character.
God loves you! Do you know that? God loves you! He has demonstrated that love for you in Jesus Christ!
Finally, God not only tells us that his love is great, infinite, and giving; he also tells us that his love is unchangeable. This is perhaps the most wonderful aspect of all. The heart of the matter is that God loves in such a way that nothing you or I have done or will ever do will alter it.
This is a point made by one of the greatest stories in the Bible, the story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer. Hosea was a preacher. One day the Lord came to him and said, “Hosea, I want you to marry a woman who is going to prove unfaithful to you. You are going to love her, but she is going to turn from your love. Nevertheless, the more faithless she becomes, the more faithful and loving you will be. I want you to do this because I want to give Israel an illustration of how I love them. Your marriage will be a pageant. You will play God. The woman will play the part of Israel. For I love Israel with an unchangeable love, and she runs from me and takes other gods for lovers.”
Hosea did as God had told him to do. So the Book of Hosea tells us, “When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.’ So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son” (Hosea 1:2–3).
At this point of the story God intervened, for he had said that he was going to order each stage of the relationship between Hosea and Gomer. God intervened to give a name to this son. “Call his name Jezreel,” God said. Jezreel means “scattered,” for God was going to scatter the people of Israel all over the face of the earth. After a time Gomer conceived again and bore a daughter. “Call her Lo-Ruhamah,” God said. Lo-Ruhamah means “not pitied.” God was saying that the time would come when he would “no longer show love to the house of Israel” (v. 6). Finally, another son was born and Hosea was told to call him Lo-Ammi. Lo-Ammi means “not my people.” “For,” said God, “you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
If the story stopped at this point the ending would be exceedingly dismal, and the pageant would be illustrating the opposite of the unchangeable love of God. But it does not stop here, and God intervenes again to tell how the story will end. “I am going to change the names of those children one day,” God promised. “I am going to change Jezreel to Jezreel.” It is the same word but with a second meaning, a change from “scattered” to “planted,” because in the ancient world the same gesture by which a man would throw something away was that by which he would plant grain. God was promising to plant the people once again in their own land, as he has done in our own generation. “Moreover,” said God, “I am going to change Lo-Ruhamah to Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi to Ammi because the time is coming when I will again have pity upon those who will have again become my children.” The Bible says, “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’ ” (v. 10).
The time came in the marriage when the events that God had foretold happened. Gomer looked around and caught the eye of a stranger. Before long she had left with him, and Hosea was alone.
The life of a woman like that goes downhill. For if she had left Hosea for the company of a man who could give her a Cadillac and a fur coat this year, it is equally certain that the year following, when the first lover had grown tired of her, she would be found with a man who could only give her a fur-lined collar and an Oldsmobile. The year after that she would be in fake fur and a Volkswagen, and the year after that she would be pulling something out of the garbage heap. So it was with Hosea’s wife. The time came when she was living with a man who did not have the means to take care of her, and she was hungry.
“Now,” said God to Hosea, “I want you to go and see that she gets the things she needs, because I take care of the people of Israel even when they are running away from me.” Hosea went and bought the groceries. He gave them to the man who was living with his wife, but he said that Gomer did not even know he had bought them. The story tells us, “Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace. She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.’ … She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold” (Hosea. 2:5, 8).
Does God love like that? Yes, he does! Have you ever run away from God? Of course, you have! What happened? God paid your bills! If you have been running away from God, do you realize that it is God who gives you the strength to run? Here is a girl who says, “I don’t care if God is calling me into Christian work. I’m going to turn away and marry this young man.” God says, “Who gave you the good looks that made the young man interested?” Another person says, “I want to be famous.” So he goes to New York and writes a book that later becomes a movie. He makes lots of money. But God says, “Who gave you the talent to write the book in the first place? Did not I, the Lord?” You cannot run away from God’s love successfully. You can run, but God pursues you. He steps before you and says, “My child, I am the One who has been providing for you all this time. Won’t you stop running and allow me to take you to myself?”
The final act of the drama was approaching. The time came when Gomer sank so low that she was sold as a slave in the city of Jerusalem, and God told Hosea to go and buy her. Slaves were always sold naked. Thus, when a beautiful girl was on sale, the men bid freely and the bidding always went high. Here was Gomer. Her clothes were taken off. The bidding began. One man bid three pieces of silver. Another said five … ten … twelve … thirteen. The low bidders had dropped out when Hosea said, “Fifteen pieces of silver.” A voice from the back of the crowd said, “Fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel of barley.” “Fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley,” said Hosea. The auctioneer looked around for a higher bid. Seeing none he declared, “This slave is sold to Hosea for fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley.” So Hosea took his wife (whom he now owned), put her clothes on her, and led her away into the anonymity of the crowd.
You say, “Is that a true picture of God’s love?” Yes, it is! That is how God loves you. Listen to what the Bible says about it: “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, ‘You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you’ ” (Hosea 3:1–3).
Oh, the greatness of the unchangeable love of almighty God! God loves you and me like that! We are the slave sold under the bondage of sin. We are the one placed upon the world’s auction block. The bidding of the world goes higher and higher. “What am I bid for this person’s soul?” At this point Jesus Christ, the faithful bridegroom, enters the slave market of sin and bids the price of his blood. “Sold to Jesus Christ for the price of his blood,” says Almighty God. So he bought you. He clothed you in his righteousness. And he led you away with himself, saying, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”
God’s Love, Our Pattern
You say “What does that have to do with me?” It has everything to do with you. Are you one who has never known that love, never realized that Jesus Christ loved you like that, that he still loves you? To be touched with such love is to throw yourself at his feet in adoration and marvel that you could ever have violated such a great and unalterable compassion. The Bible tells us that God “commends” such great love toward us (Rom. 5:8). Won’t you allow the hardness of your heart to melt before God’s love and allow Jesus Christ to be your great Savior and bridegroom?
Perhaps you are one who has already done that. You have believed in Christ, but the reality of that love has become distant for you and you have never fully realized that the love of Christ is to become the pattern of your love. He is to be your model. You need to ask whether your love has been great, whether it has the character of that love which is infinite, whether it is a giving love, whether it is unchangeable. Ask it now. Does your love change when the person whom you love does not respond quickly? Or does it hold firm? Do you continue to love when your wife, husband, child, or friend does not seem to see things the way you do and contradicts you? Do you love as Christ loves? You are called to show forth that love; for as others see it they will be drawn to the Lord Jesus.
God’s Greatest Gift
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
It is commonplace in our day to say that God loves men. But many who say this fail to recognize that we know this is so only because of Jesus Christ. How do we know that God loves us? Not because of creation certainly, for the evidence of creation is ambiguous. There are tidal waves and hurricanes as well as gorgeous sunsets. Not because we tend to value love, for not all of us do. Not because love is “wonderful” or “grand” or because it “makes the world go round.” We know that God loves us because he has given his Son to be crucified for us and thereby to bring us back into fellowship with himself. Thus, if the love of God is one of God’s greatest attributes (as we saw in our last study), the gift of Christ is most certainly his greatest gift. For it is through Christ that we come to know God’s love and love God.
Sometime ago I came across a little card upon which someone had printed John 3:16. The verse was arranged almost word by word down one side of the card, and on the other side of the card across from the words of the verse was a list of descriptive phrases, one for each part. The person looking at the card would read: “God (the greatest Lover) so loved (the greatest degree) the world (the greatest company), that he gave (the greatest act) his only begotten Son (the greatest gift), that whosoever (the greatest opportunity) believeth (the greatest simplicity) in him (the greatest attraction) should not perish (the greatest promise), but (the greatest difference) have (the greatest certainty) everlasting life (the greatest possession).” And then over it all, revealing a spiritual perception that was most accurate, there was the title “Christ—the Greatest Gift.”
Have you ever come to appreciate God’s greatest gift to you, the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ? We are going to look at some of the reasons why he is a great gift and why you should believe on him.
God So Loved
The first reason why Jesus Christ is the greatest of God’s gifts is that Jesus is the best God had to give. God so loved the world that he gave the very best.
This truth is seen in several ways in John 3:16. First, it is obvious from the word “only-begotten,” which is used of Jesus. To our way of thinking, this word (it is one word in Greek) refers mainly to physical generation, but it means more than that in the original language. A great deal of theological controversy in the church was once caused by those who took it as simply physical generation; they argued that since the Bible says Jesus was the “only-begotten” Son, there must have been a time before he came into being. In other words, he did not exist from eternity but rather was the first being God created. This was foolish, of course, because the Bible does not teach this and the word does not have this meaning primarily. Primarily the word means “unique.” Jesus is the unique Son of God; there is no one like him, no one who is his equal. Therefore, because Jesus Christ is the very image of God and because there is no one like him, when God gave Jesus, he gave the best gift in the universe.
God also gave the best in another sense. For Jesus Christ is not at all a creature made in the image of God, as man is; he is God incarnate. Consequently, when God gave Jesus he gave himself. To give oneself is the greatest gift anyone can give. Sometime ago I read a story of a minister who was talking to a married couple who were having marital difficulties. There was much hardness and bitterness, coupled with a lack of understanding. At one point the husband spoke up in obvious exasperation. “I’ve given you everything,” he said to the wife. “I’ve given you a new home. I’ve given you a new fur coat. I’ve given you a new car. I’ve given you …” The list went on. But when he had ended the wife said quietly. “That much is true, John. You have given me everything … but yourself.”
We hear that story and we recognize the truth of the principle: the greatest gift that anyone can give is himself. Then we look at Jesus, who is God incarnate, and we recognize that God gave the very best—himself—for us.
An Eternal Plan
The second reason why Jesus Christ is God’s greatest gift is that Jesus was a gift planned from before the foundation of the world. God had always intended to give Jesus. This is why so many of the verses in the Bible speak of God having put Jesus to death. Isaiah 53:10 speaks of the crucifixion eight centuries before it took place, saying, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” Peter knew this truth. On the day of Pentecost he spoke of Jesus who “was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). For the same reason the Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
We must not think that the entrance of sin into the world through Adam and Eve was an event that somehow caught God by surprise or that it caused God to begin to ponder what he should do to correct it. God knew all from the beginning. Consequently, before he even set the universe in motion, before he created us, he had determined to send Jesus Christ to die for the salvation of our race.
Perhaps the greatest declaration of this principle lies in a poignant story from the life of Abraham, the story of the call of God to Abraham to offer up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is told in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. I believe that Jesus was referring to this event when he told the Jews of his day, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56), and that through it Abraham learned that God was to give Jesus Christ to be our Savior.
To see the story in its proper perspective we must begin with the fact that Abraham was an old man by our standards when God came to him to ask him to offer up Isaac. He had been eighty-six years old when his first son, Ishmael, had been born to Hagar, Sarah’s slave girl. He was one hundred years old when Sarah at last gave birth to Isaac. Now Isaac had become a young man, perhaps fifteen years of age or more, and Abraham was more than one hundred fifteen. Moreover, Abraham had loved his son from birth, as any father would, and he now loved him deeply with a love that had grown stronger over the years in which he had seen him grow to young manhood. He loved him doubly, not only because he was the son of his old age, the result of a miracle, but also because he was the son of promise.
At this point God came to Abraham again—as he had many times before—and said to him, “Abraham.”
“I am going to ask you to do something.”
“I want you to take Isaac, the son of promise, the one through whom you are going to have a great posterity and through whom I am going to send the Messiah—I want you to take this Isaac to a mountain that I will show you and there offer him for a burnt offering. I want you to kill him.”
I do not know the extent of the trial this must have been to Abraham’s faith or how much of the night he wrestled with this great problem. But whatever the struggle was, and however deep, it was all over by the following morning, for the Abraham that emerged in the morning was an Abraham committed to obedience. The story says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about” (Gen. 22:3).
There are many lessons in this story, of course, but there is one in particular that we should see before we go on. On one level at least, the test of Abraham was a test of his devotion to God. Was God going to be everything to Abraham? Or was something else, even God’s gift, going to share and cloud that vision? It was Abraham’s triumph that he did not put the gifts before the Giver.
Isaac can stand for many things that have become quite precious to you. The Chinese evangelist Watchman Nee once wrote, “He represents many gifts of God’s grace. Before God gives them, our hands are empty. Afterwards they are full. Sometimes God reaches out his hands to take ours in fellowship. Then we need an empty hand to put into his. But when we have received his gifts and are nursing them to ourselves, our hands are full, and when God puts out his hand we have no empty hand for him.” When that happens we need to let go of the gift and take hold of God himself. Nee adds, “Isaac can be done without, but God is eternal.”
God Will Provide
Yes, the testing of Abraham was certainly a test of his devotion to God, but it was something else also. It was a spiritual test or, as we could also say, a test of his spiritual perception.
Think of the things Abraham had learned in the years before Isaac’s birth. He had been tempted to think that God would not keep his promises and that a household servant would be his legal heir. God had taught him that the blessing would not come through the household servant. Abraham had once wanted to substitute Ishmael, the son of Hagar, for Isaac—before Isaac was born. But God had told him that the blessing would not come through the son of the Egyptian slave girl. God had shown Abraham through a miracle that the blessing was to come through Isaac, and now God had asked Abraham to kill him.
We must imagine the reasoning that passed through the mind of Abraham in the dark hours of that desert evening. He must have said something like this: “I know that Isaac is the son of God’s promise, and God has shown me time and again that he will not send the blessing through another. Yet, this same God tells me to sacrifice him, to put him to death. How can this be? If I put him to death, as God has demanded, how can God fulfill his promise? How can God do it?” The puzzle was real. But then, as Abraham wrestled with this supreme test of God’s logic, it must have come to him that the God who performed a miracle in bringing about Isaac’s birth was also capable of working a miracle to bring him back from the dead. This was the solution he discovered during the long desert night. Thus, as Abraham started for the mountain in the morning he must have been saying mentally to Isaac, “Come on, boy, we are going to see a miracle. God has asked me to sacrifice you on Mount Moriah. But if God is going to be faithful to his promise, he is going to have to raise you up again from the dead. We are going to see a resurrection.”
Someone may think that I have merely made up this part of the story, but this is the way it happened. The proof of it occurs in at least two parts of the Bible. The first is in the story itself. Abraham had come to the foot of the mountain with the boy, and he was ready to go on without the young men who were with him. As he takes the kindling and he and Isaac prepare to climb the mountain, Abraham says to the others: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Gen. 22:5). Think of that: we will come back to you. Who would come? Abraham and Isaac! What does that mean? It means that although Abraham believed that he was going to offer the sacrifice, he also believed that God was going to perform a resurrection and that he would be able to come back down the mountain with his boy.
The second proof is Hebrews 11:17–19, which is the full New Testament commentary on the incident. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” That means that Abraham looked for a resurrection.
Thus far the story has already been great in itself, but the point I wish to make is the point that is found in the sequel. Abraham did go up the mountain, as God had commanded him, and there bound Isaac to the altar. He raised his hand ready to plunge a knife into his son. He would have killed him. But just as the knife was ready to fall, God intervened. God provided a substitute, a ram caught in the bushes. And he said (in effect), “Abraham, you don’t need to sacrifice your son. I never intended that you should go through with it. I only wanted to test your willingness to obey me and to show you in this way what I will do one day for your salvation and for the salvation of all who will believe in my Son, the Messiah.” This, I believe, was the moment in which Abraham saw the day of Jesus Christ and, seeing it, was made glad.
God revealed his ways to Abraham. The Bible says, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). So the time came when the events God had planned from before creation and had revealed to Abraham two thousand years beforehand took place. Abraham was only called upon to offer his son. But when the time came for God to offer his Son, the hand that was poised above Christ fell. God put his Son to death, and God’s greatest gift had been given.
The Need of Man
The third reason why Jesus Christ is the greatest of God’s gifts to fallen man is that he is perfectly suited to the needs of fallen man. Nothing else is! What are the needs of man? What are your needs?
Your first need is for a sure word from God, for knowledge of God. Jesus is the answer to that need, for it is Jesus alone who brings us the knowledge of who God is, what he is like, and what he desires for mankind. This is why Jesus is called the Word so many times in John’s writings. Do you want to know what God is like? If so, do not spend your time reading the books of men. Do not think that you will find out by meditating. Look to Jesus Christ. Where will you find him? You will find him in the pages of the Bible. There you will find the strength, mercy, wisdom, and compassion that are the essence of God’s character.
Your second great need is for a Savior. We do not merely have a need for sure knowledge. We have knowledge of many things, but we are unable to live up to our knowledge. We are sinners. Consequently, we not only need a sure word from God, we need a Savior. Jesus is the Savior. He died to save you from sin and from yourself. Do you know him as Savior?
Finally, we have those needs that are part and parcel of living a finite sinful life. What are those needs? One way of looking at them is the way popularized by the American psychiatrist Erich Fromm. Fromm suggests that man is confronted with three existential dilemmas. The first is the dilemma of life versus death. We want to live, but we all die. Jesus is the answer to that problem, for he gives eternal life to all who believe on him. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). The second of Fromm’s dilemmas is the dilemma of the individual and the group. Jesus is the answer to that problem too, for he has come to break down all walls and to make of his followers one new man which is his mystical body (Eph. 2:14–16). The last of Fromm’s dilemmas is that arising from the conflict between our aspirations and our actual achievements. We all fall short of what we would like to be and believe ourselves intended to be. Jesus is the answer to that problem also, for he promises to make us all that God created us to be in the first place. We are to be conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29). One of our hymns looks forward to that day when our salvation shall be complete, and declares:
Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be;
Things that are not now, nor could be,
Soon shall be our own.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest gift that God has ever offered or could ever offer to the human race. Are you indifferent? Or do you respond to the offer, joining the millions of others who have believed in Christ with all their heart and mind and who now say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15)?
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