1 Jn. 4:9
We find that God is dealing with men according to everything that He is in Himself-dealing with their hearts and consciences by presenting to them all that He is; and we know that He is holy, righteous and love, so that we may look at these things as being brought ourselves truly to God. "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." This shews the necessity of separation from evil. "In him is no darkness at all."
Again, there must not only be separation from evil, but righteousness as regards guilt. For there has not only been opposition to God, but we have failed in duty and are the subjects of defilement and guilt. He did not merely say, when they had eaten of the forbidden fruit, judgment must follow. And this proves the perfect love of God. It is not said, He is holiness: indeed mere holiness would but repel the sinner: He is holy. He is just, and therefore there must be judgment; but He is love, and love draws me. This is the spring of all His dealings until He is forced to action-not naturally forced-forced by reason of evil; for He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and therefore is forced to turn away the eye-in that sense forced to have done with evil. He may be active, calling to repentance, and He is-but no remedy. He does not execute judgment now; but the day will come when He will set aside the power of evil, and not only prove that He is the God of judgment, but that He makes those He blesses eternally happy in holiness, for He is holy love. He is light; and if I am there in the light, it shews me all that is not light, and all is judged. We delight in holiness therefore, because He is holy, but love is His nature; that is what He is. Judgment would condemn; but "now is the accepted time," in the which He exercises grace in receiving sinners to the full blessedness of fellowship with Himself. Whatever your state may be, God is perfect in His love, and He would make us enjoy and walk in it now. It is not in heaven we shall learn it. We shall be there everlastingly in His presence; but to enjoy it, I must learn it here, or I could not have the enjoyment of it there. Our nature, selfishness, and unbelief hinder down here: still they, after all, only magnify the grace that exercises love in spite of all. He will bring us to the knowledge of perfect love. "Perfect love casteth out fear, for fear hath torment" etc. It may be very reasonable that it should be so, but still it is torment.
Do any of you fear when thinking of God? You have torment, for "fear bath torment," when it is connected with the conscience, however man may seek to bury his conscience (and he does succeed in hardening it). Now Satan may even use truth to alarm and make one despair and think there is no love and forgiveness. But where God awakens the conscience, it is always to teach something about His goodness. As in the prodigal son, etc., whatever may be the character of the alarm, the reason for it is in God Himself; and God would have us to know it. If I could get my pardon from any other source than God, I do not learn His love. For instance, if I seek peace in ordinances, it is not love but fear. The effect of true ministry is to put the soul in direct contact with God. False ministry is the bringing in of something between the soul and God. There having been a revelation of God to the soul, it can never get rest until received from God, and until then there is no rest. And you will discern what is of God from what is not of God by this test, that it turns to God. He blesses by the revelation of His love. This delivers from the corruption of the truth-secures the soul from error until there is perfect peace. If I have that, I know Him. What else do I want? The soul, however quickened and secured, must have the blessed consciousness of perfect peace with God. I must, of course, seek to do His will and seek fellowship with Him, and prayer, etc.; but neither as satisfying God, nor quieting myself, or it ceases to be prayer. What God does for your souls is, He is bringing you into the joy of His perfect love in His presence; and oh! what a spring of joy does this bring into the soul. "Who shall separate us"? "More than conquerors."
Now in this epistle and in this chapter, remarkably, it is what the divine nature is. God is love. Whatever might occur in the history of the church of God, He is unchangeable, and if only one soul were to remain true, and all the rest were gone astray, and the whole nominal church to go another way (if they say God is not love, is not truth), Christ is the image of the invisible God. He has been here-light and love, and that is what God was, manifest in the flesh, and you will find these in the children. It is the family character of the children of God, light and love; God's nature, both in Christ and in all the children. All through this epistle it is the essential nature of Christ that is dwelt on-what is essentially divine. That makes it more remarkable how when He has brought the soul to peace, He makes it to rest not in anything in self, but in Christ's work. We must have the divine nature, but how do I get this nature? I find a perfect manifestation of His love. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us."
I must have the new nature first to know this, and the soul is brought into the perfect light and joy of it without a cloud, daily and hourly finding the joy in which we can go on in the grace He has towards us. Where is this found? In Jesus Christ Himself. "No man hath seen God at any time, the only-begotten Son." He found us "dead in trespasses and sins." What was God to us when thus "we were by nature? The effect and consequence of our condition was "wrath" "but God who is rich in mercy," etc. Here is no mention of anything required of us, but the simple fact of what we were-"dead in trespasses and sins," and it at once turns to what God is: "but God who is rich in mercy for the great love," etc., bringing out the contrast of what we were and what God is. We were dead in sins. God brought out the means of our approaching to Himself, though a God of judgment, through Christ's sacrifice. From Abel downwards God was shewing mercy; so Abel's faith testified how man was to approach to God. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent," etc. (John 3). That changed all God's dealings. God was to be approached before, but when Christ comes, it is another thing. Man is clearly proved to be a child of wrath. If man is dealt with as man, he refuses to come to God-"none righteous." When Christ comes, it is altogether another thing. God now approaches man, which is grace; not man the means for man to come to God; but God coming to man. He visited men in their sins, "that they might live through him." All was darkness, degradation, and idolatry. God takes them out of that condition that they might live through Christ. "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son," and thus we are brought into His presence. The life I have as a saint is the fruit of the love of God-life communicated by grace; not creation putting me in a position and sustaining me, but when I have failed, His grace has abounded over it, and given me this life in Christ, when I was dead and enmity against Him; and the very truth that I have life is the proof of His love. We live through His only-begotten Son. He is bringing us into His presence, and putting before us His beloved Son, in whom all His delight was from eternity. And is this the God for whom I wrought? And the soul adores the wondrousness of His love, for it is no longer the thought of how I must get to God. God has come to me in His grace. If I take the righteousness of God without this, there would be the appearance that God is harsh. Now if I get this life-love known and holiness known-my conscience becomes not only as a natural conscience, judging sin, but I learn to judge it according to God, because I am brought into the light. "If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth."
"Herein is love, not that we loved God." The first thing, legal commandment, disappears; though we ought to love God, it is true, as the commandment demands. "Not that we loved God." It is the fruit but never the ground of my fellowship with Him, because I learn God has loved me in my sins; and I learn, though excellent, it is a thing not required of a sinner. If it is required, I am lost! I now am shewing another thing-that the sinner is loved when he does not love God. It is the sinner's need that draws out His love. We may say, I do not find I live through Him. In one sense, it is right it should be felt; but when it is only that, the effect is to turn our eyes in on ourselves, and so to dishearten. Grace is working and can be seen by others, though not visible to the one who feels it. But I say, I do not find I love. You mistake the whole matter. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us." Well, I admit it, but I do not see I have a share in it, for I do not feel its effects. But we see, He sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins, and that is the proof of His love. It is the eternal enjoyment of it to know eternal life in the Son; but down here we often question it, because we do not see this love in us. He is "a propitiation for our sins."
Ah! now I can see, when I believe that. In Him, in His death, is the ground of my rest. Therein I learn what love is towards such a sinner as I am. I turn to look at it, not in myself, but in Him; and I rest in God. What my soul rests in is what He is, and what He has done. "He hath sent his Son as a propitiation." God has loved me not only when I wanted it, but according to His sense of my want. He has not mistaken my case; the propitiation is made for my sins-Christ on the cross-and we can say, "Herein is love," etc. I have found God. My soul rests there. The cloud is taken away for ever. God has given His Son. If you say, but there is such and such a sin, etc., I answer, that it is for the sins you had or have that Christ died; for He died for your sins. You ought to hate them. He has the man and his sins before Him. He does not put away the man but his sins. Indeed He cannot bear sin, and therefore He must put the sinner in his sins away, because He cannot bear the sins, if they are not put away. The love of God has wrought a work to bring the sinner without his sins into His presence. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever," etc.
First, there is Christ meeting the need of all who come unto God; and then we learn why it is-for "God so loved the world." It is important we should know not only our need of Christ in approaching God, but that God in His love gave His Son that we might approach Him. "And we have known and believed the love." Faith is always certain, and so I set to my seal that God is true. Thus believing and looking to God, my soul is certain. "He that dwelleth in God dwelleth in love." My soul rests in His love. And now I have communion-seeing the work He has done to cleanse my sin, as I learn it in Christ, and am perfectly happy. Why should such an one murmur or be cross? "We have known and believed the love." "God is love, and he that dwells in love, dwells in God and God in him." He connects it with Christ. God does not expect fruit from man, but His grace produces fruit. Man had no life from which God could expect anything, and so He gives a new nature in Christ, that He may produce it. When the divine nature is communicated, we look for it then in ourselves, and that always works in a soul quickened of God.
Do I find many sins in myself? He is the propitiation for our sins. I believe this, and I enter into communion. Why do you find fear and torment when you find sin in yourself? Cannot you trust that love? Have you not believed the love God has towards you? Have you not had the Father on your neck in your rags? You must know the love God has to you, and then you know God. "Herein is love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment." It is Christ all through who is spoken of as He and Him, without reference to His name, the apostle's mind being so full of Christ as not to deem it needful to mention it. God's love was manifested to us in His sending His Son, that we might have life and righteousness; now it is perfected that we may have boldness in the day of judgment. I am in Him who is judging. He is my righteousness: why should I not be bold? "As he is, so are we in this world."
The effect of grace is the cause that we should feel sin, and know it blotted out, as well as live through Him. "The glory thou hast given me I have given them, that the world may know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me." "There is no fear in love." It is a matter of communion. "Perfect love casteth out fear." We are called to learn God's love by the communication of what Christ is for us; and then we are in Him before God as Christ is. If so, I find rest to the heart: it rests in God-knows God is perfect-knows He has met all its need and all its sin put away, and that He is perfect love. Thus we "joy in God." "We love him, because he first loved us"; and we pass through this sorrowful wilderness, leaning on Him who is bringing us through it. Do your souls rest in the love of God? Granted that He ought to be loved; but you are not honouring God, if you do not trust what His love has been in the work of Christ on the cross. The whole is perfected. He Himself has done it, that you might trust Him, giving His Son to die as well as life in Him, which also the believer has.
And you who would come to Him must come just as you are, and then you will know God, and He will enable you to trust in the perfectness of the work which put away sin-the blood of Jesus Christ His Son.