The Believer's Love
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.John 14:21
May I thank you for your very warm welcome. I count it a very real privilege to be here and have come, as has already been mentioned by our esteemed Chairman, to appreciate very much the work of the Trinitarian Bible Society.
I am personally thankful to the Lord who opened my eyes to the excellence of the Authorised Version of the Bible. It wasn't at the very first by various arguments, although of course arguments are important, but the AV has its own intrinsic worth.
I was converted in a Baptist Union Church. The Bible that I used subsequent to my conversion was not a Bible at all — it was the Living Bible. Then in time I progressed to the RSV that my minister used and over recent years was brought to the Authorised Version. I was not brought up with that version but came to love it. I esteem the men who use it and value the men who preach from it. A friend of mine said recently, and I concur with him, that the best preachers in Britain are the Authorised Version preachers.
Thank you for your stand particularly in respect to the truth of the Providential preservation of the Word of God. The Word has not been lost and refound in recent years; God has kept his Word down through the generations, to be realised in the Masoretic texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and in the Textus Receptus of the New.
Having said this, I direct your attention to the Word of God. My text is taken from John 14:21. After I was asked to address this assembly I felt very much that this would be a very relevant and helpful text to us. May I say that the emphasis of the message this afternoon is the place of the Word of God in our experimental knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Lord then says in verse 21 of this fourteenth chapter, 'He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him'. If you know this passage — and I trust that most of you know it well — it is similar, is it not, to verse 23. There are, however, noted differences, one being that in verse 23 it is the Father and the Son who are each manifested to the soul of a gracious man or woman. But, of course, we say very forcibly at the outset that this is certainly no inconsistency, for he who sees the Son sees the Father in Him and he who receives the Son receives the Father as well. The Son is of the very essence of the Father.
Now we know that the betrayer Judas has departed at this stage. It is as though a cloud has been lifted. The Lord Jesus seems to be freer with the eleven and opens His heart in a most intimate way to them. We have those outstanding words in verse 1 of this chapter that have very often borne the people of God over the River Jordan of death into the promised land of heaven, 'Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me'. The Lord says additionally in verse 18 'I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you'. I will not leave you forlorn, I will not leave you as orphans, but I will come afresh to you.
But how then will the Lord Jesus come to them? What does the Lord mean here in these words? Of course, it is true that He will return to them after His death in those post-resurrection appearances. We have the Gospel accounts. We have Paul's great statement in 1 Corinthians 15:5, 'that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve'. We remember wonderfully how our Lord appeared to the disciples in the room: the doors were closed and they were fearful of the Jews, but the Lord spoke peace to their hearts and gladdened their hearts by revealing Himself to them with the same body with which He was crucified although yet its quality was different. Again you remember on the Lord's Day that Thomas, this time being present, heard those words from Jesus that corresponded to his words of doubt and unbelief Jesus calling Thomas to run his fingers into those nail marks. You remember how Thomas wonderfully said, 'My Lord and my God' (John 20:28).
But the coming the Lord speaks of here in 14:18, I believe, is not that coming. This coming that the Lord speaks of is connected with verses 16 and 17 and with the Holy Spirit, so that what we have in these verses is the Lord Jesus manifesting Himself unto His people by the Spirit of God. It is in that way that we need to understand verse 21, 'I will love him, and will manifest myself to him'.
However, the doctrine that I particularly want to handle today is the place of the Word of God in our experience of Jesus Christ in connection with His manifestation to our souls. With this in mind, we might summarise verse 21 in this way: love to Christ is discovered by obedience to the Word of Christ. A person — one who shows his love for Christ by his obedience — will be loved of the Father and indeed loved of the Son, and to such a gracious soul Christ will manifest Himself. May Christ manifest Himself to us under the means of grace even at this point. I want to expound this text very simply in a fourfold way.
- Firstly, a true believer undoubtedly loves the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Secondly, love to the Lord Jesus Christ is discovered by obedience to His Word.
- Thirdly, the believer in loving and obeying Christ is loved in turn by the Father and the Son.
- And finally, to such a soul the Lord Jesus Christ makes Himself known.
A True Believer Loves the Lord Jesus Christ
First of all, an outstanding hallmark of the true child of God is that he or she loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Although we have never seen Him, we have never viewed His image with our physical eye, we were not there at Calvary neither were we in the room when Christ manifested Himself to His disciples, we can say — as in the words of Peter — 'whom having not seen, ye love' (1 Peter 1:8).
Who amongst us has not been challenged on this count? When we have drawn near to God in our devotions and opened the Word of God on our laps and sought the face of God in prayer, or when we have gone up into the house of God to sing His praise and to hear the Word of God preached, or when we have come to the table of the Lord, the challenge comes to us as believers as it did to Peter of old on the seashore of Galilee: 'lovest thou me?' (John 21:16).
This is constantly the challenge of the believer, and the challenge that really is issued to us today: 'lovest thou me?' What are all our proceedings, what is our meeting here this afternoon, without love to the Lord Jesus Christ? The work of the TBS is galvanized, is given impetus, is carried on in a spirit of devotion of love to the Lord Jesus Christ. This dear brother mentioned earlier who is attempting under the hand of God a new translation of the Scriptures in Chinese is so doing out of love to the Lord Jesus Christ. By grace, surely like Peter we find some love in our souls, some desire there in our hearts, and we can confess because we doubt not the grace of God in us nor the fact that He knows us — 'thou knowest that I love thee'. He does know that we love Him; He registers every desire, He hears every sigh, He sees every thought.
But we are aware of our failures. We are aware as we have already confessed in prayer today of the coldness of our hearts. We are only too well aware of our backslidings and affirm with the hymn writer, 'Weak — Oh so weak! — is the effort of my heart, and cold my warmest thought':1when I am at my best, even then they are cold and weak. We can testify of the poverty of our love to the Lord Jesus: poverty in the light of His great love to us. 'Having loved his own ... he loved them unto the end' (John 13:1), unto the uttermost on the Cross He poured out His heart's love for sinners such as we are, and we can with the Apostle say of this blessed One, He 'loved me, and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2:20).
Although weak is our love, frail is our love, the believer does love Christ. The believer says, as one dear woman said on her deathbed not so long ago, 'whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee' (Psalm 73:25).
Love is an essential mark of the child of God, and faith in the soul begets love. Thomas Vincent, the great Puritan, puts it roughly like this: the life of Christianity consists very much of our love to Christ.2Why is a corpse as it is? A corpse is such because the natural life has fled from it in death, and such can be men: as spiritual corpses without the spiritual life of love within them. What is orthodoxy without love to the Saviour? What is the dotting of the i's and the crossing of the t's without love for the One who first loved us? He did indeed first love us, and His love for us is the grounds for our love to Him, the reason why we are able so to love Him. Having loved us from all eternity — 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love' (Jeremiah 31:3) — love brought Him in His incarnation into this world, and 'while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us' (Romans 5:8). There upon the Cross of Calvary He embraced every guilty soul of those given to Him to redeem, then in time sent His Spirit to open their eyes and unstop their deaf ears.
We love the one who paid our debts. You remember the words of that parable that Jesus spoke: when the debtors had nothing to pay, their creditor frankly forgave them both (Luke 7:42). We had nothing to pay, and at that point we realised that our merits and our works were vain and futile. It was then that the wondrous grace of Jesus Christ was manifested to us. We love the One who died in our place as our substitute. A hunter, a man out in the forest, discovered a dog, its foot caught in a trap. At the first attempt to open the trap the dog snarled and yet the man persevered; and in course of time the dog followed the one who opened the trap and licked his hands. At the first we were resistant, but irresistible grace made us willing and we kissed the One who opened the trap of sin and death and followed Him, following the Lamb wherever He goes. A true believer loves Jesus Christ.
Love to the Lord Jesus Christ is Discovered by Obedience to His Word
Secondly, our text reveals to us how this love for the Lord Jesus is discovered, how it is evidenced. It is very clearly here in our text in John 14:21. Jesus said, 'he that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me'. The same is said in verse 15, 'if ye love me, keep my commandments', and again in a similar way in verse 23, 'Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words'.
Regarding verse 23, Matthew Poole 3noticed a wonderful golden chain of love to Christ that inevitably leads to obedience, not obedience that leads to love but love which goes out to the Saviour in obedience to His Word, to have and keep His commandments and to keep his Words. As much, of course, as we cherish the actual spoken words of our Lord that are recorded in the inscripturated words, as much as we love them, we do not limit His Words to His commands or to His actual recorded words.
As a Society we do not subscribe to the view that what we believe to be the actual spoken words of the Lord should be in red. It would be hard, at any rate, to put them in red, particularly when you come to the Old Testament. No, we do not say this. The whole of the Biblical revelation is the Word of Christ, the very Word of God; the Bible is His Word. 'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly' (Colossians 3:16). In 1 Peter 1:11 we are told that the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets of old. In 1 Peter 3:19 our belief is this: that Christ preached through Noah by the Spirit. Noah was a preacher of righteousness in the days of gross evil prior to the flood. That then indicates that the Old Testament is His Word as well as the New Testament. So too, obviously, is the New Testament God 'hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds' (Hebrews 1:2).
It is this Word, this Scripture, that we have in our possession preserved down through the generations, defended by countless numbers of God's people, that we are to keep, that we are to obey. It is not merely to be in the ears to tickle us. It is not merely to be in our emotions as sentiments, neither merely in our mouths to speak of, but in the heart to effect obedience. The Psalmist says, 'Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee' (Psalm 119:11).
Spurgeon puts things so succinctly. Have you ever read his statement in relation to that verse, 'Here is the best thing, — "thy word"; hidden in the best place, — "in my heart"; for the best of purposes, — "that I might not sin against thee'"?4'Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path' (Psalm 119:105). John Bunyan spoke of the Bible as being bound in leather: in shoe leather. We are not merely talkers of truth, but we are to be holy walkers, holy practitioners.
To meditate upon the Word of God: the Psalmist in Psalm 1 speaks of this being a great characteristic difference between the godly and the ungodly. The godly meditate upon the law of God day and night, but the wicked do not so. The hearts of the godly are moved by the Word of God. When was the last time our hearts were moved in the house of God as the Word of God was preached, and our wills had to act upon that Word? It is a Word unto life: it is a Word that slays our sin, that cheers the desponding, that comforts the downcast, that revives those who are failing; it is a hammer, it is a fire. How we prize this Word! How we evidence our love for the Lord Jesus by seeking to ding to its promises, being consoled by them and acting upon its precepts.
You have heard about the French shoemaker who received the Word of God from the lips of a beggar. A beggar came to his door and for a penny (or the equivalent in French currency in those days) he read a chapter to the shoemaker and then another chapter and another chapter; and the heart of the shoemaker was touched to the point where he was desirous to have a Bible himself. So he walked seventy miles even though he was a man who was over seventy years of age. There he was given a Bible by a Protestant minister. As he was given the Bible he stroked it and took it home and his daughter, who could read, read it to him; and as he worked making shoes he recited the words of God. In due course he returned to the Protestant minister and as a result a Bible society was started. The man who received the Word of God evidenced his love of it by obeying it and living in the light of it. The true believer loves the Lord Jesus Christ and his love for the Lord Jesus Christ is discovered in obedience to His Word.
The Believer in Loving and Obeying Christ is Loved in Turn by the Father and the Son
But let's hasten on to the third point as we develop this text and look into these wonderful words. Such a loving and obedient heart is in turn loved by the Father and by the Son. These are momentous words and very moving: 'He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him'.
'Shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him': a blessed thought indeed this afternoon! Surely it must be so as we think along these lines, that the Father must needs love and delight in those who love His Son. Oh that we had the powers to meditate upon that wondrous love between the Three Blessed Persons of the Trinity! We can in the Scriptures enter into this thought to a degree, insofar as the inspired volume takes us to that relation of love between the Father and the Son: how the Father loves the Son and how the Son loves the Father. It is stated in Hebrews 1:3 that the Son is the express image of His Person. As one commentator has put it,5in the phrase 'the exact resemblance of His Father', the language is taken from the thought of a die stamping a medal. Yet even human language is inadequate to convey the Divine Nature of the Son.
The Father delighted in His Son from all eternity. He was with Him. We can apply Proverbs 8:30 to our Saviour, Who was ever the delight of the Father as the Wisdom of God. God has never been without His Wisdom, neither has God ever been without the brightness of His Glory. Ever the Father has loved the Son. Did He not love Him when He willingly condescended to be the God-man, the Mediator between God and men? In His appearance in the days of His flesh, the Father said 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' (Matthew 3:17). This is the darling of His heart, in the bosom of God the Father. He loved Him ever as being the Son. He loved Him on account of His work as our Saviour, for His willing obedience and for His sufferings in life and upon the Cross.
What deference to the Father's will we see: Christ is held up to us more than angels as an example of obedience. Should not then we also love those whom the Father loves? The Father must love a gracious, loving, obedient soul. The Father must love those who believe and receive the Son of God. 'They will reverence my son,' the parable says (Mark 12:6).
Now we know most certainly that His love — the love of God — precedes our love. That is undeniable. It is the ground and the cause of our love unto Him. But in the text we see that He loves the loving, willing, obedient soul, and what is this but the love of complacency and the love of delight. He loved us, He gave Himself for us; we love Him because He first loved us.
But do we see this evident reciprocating of the love of the Son and the Father unto a gracious soul? I wonder whether we see it a little in the relationship between Jacob and Joseph. We know that Jacob loved Joseph because he was the son of his old age. There might have been a degree of failure there. We find in the Patriarchs sometimes favouritism. Was it not the case that Jacob viewed Joseph as a godly young man? He was not a tell-tale, but was genuinely grieved by the wickedness of his brothers. Joseph was concerned about the Patriarchal blessing and the church in the Old Testament, and so he came to his father and shared with him the wickedness of his brothers. Surely that had a bearing upon Jacob's heart. Jacob was essentially a godly man.
We see something of that by way of analogy in the family. For those of you who are fathers, mothers, perhaps grandparents, too, how your heart is warmed at the obedience of a child. A child is compliant. Perhaps you come home and walk through the door and your child doesn't need to be asked to do something, doesn't do something grudgingly when they are asked but willingly gives themselves to the assigned task. Your heart is warmed by that and moved by that. But it might be the case that you have viewed a child in some degree of submission to suffering. I remember, and I trust that you will bear with me in a personal allusion, when my son was six or seven he was taken into hospital with a stomach complaint. Just seeing him bearing that suffering without complaint and really impressing the nurses: how I had respect for my son because he bore those sufferings without murmuring and complaining. Our hearts are moved by it.
The Father loved His Son because His Son obeyed, because His Son submitted.
Do not also the Father and the Son love those who love the Lord Jesus Christ? His heart is towards the gracious soul, to those who would obey His commandments.
To Such a Soul the Lord Jesus Christ Makes Himself Known
Fourthly and finally, this is the point that I want to stress as we shortly come to a close. Let me remind you of the points that we have covered hitherto. First of all, a true believer loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, love to the Lord Jesus Christ is discovered by obedience, and obedience flows from a loving soul. Thirdly, the believer in loving and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ is loved in turn by the Father and the Son with a love of delight and complacency.
To such an one the text tells us the Son will manifest Himself. 'He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.' I will manifest myself to him through the Spirit and by the Spirit
This is prefigured in the Old Testament (We can be so intent upon following the literal meaning of the text that we miss glorious pictures of Christ here.) This is prefigured somewhat as we view Genesis 45:1, where Joseph discovers himself to his brethren. Joseph knew them, but they did not know him. He had grown up. He had the cut of an Egyptian monarch, his speech was strange unto them, but his heart yearned for them. He got to that point where his heart was so bursting with love for them, that he had all the courtiers and servants put out of the room and there was no man there when Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. Did we not know something of that when we were converted? Did not the Lord Jesus Christ draw near to us by His Spirit, in the Word of God revealing Himself to us? Was it not the case that our blessed Saviour yearned over us, longed to reveal Himself to us, and at the appointed time — as the Gospel came home to our souls — displayed to us the loveliness of His grace and the beauty of His love?
This is seen in the Song of Solomon. We speak sometimes in our prayers in prayer meetings: Oh, that Christ might look through the lattice-work. Or at times of revival we pray: Oh, that the Lord might visit His garden and come amongst us. Paul spoke with a degree of sadness that no man stood with him but how, notwithstanding that, the Lord stood with him. We remember from Revelation 3:20 (I know that perhaps there are other interpretations of this verse), hearing His voice as He knocks, and opening the door and He coming in and supping with us and we supping with Him. That is so reminiscent of the Song of Solomon 5:2, hearing 'the voice of my beloved that knocketh'; his voice that knocks makes impressions upon my heart. Does not Jesus Christ draw near to us? Why, there are some hymns in Gadsby's Hymns that are entitled 'Desiring the Lord's Visits' — there might not be many of those hymns, but this confidence can be found in some. Where does Christ manifest Himself unto those who love Him and obey Him?
Let me then refer again to Thomas Vincent There is a wonderful treatise appended to his sermon on The True Christians' Love to the Unseen Christ. He says this:
This is in the way of his ordinances; there he doth walk; there he doth appear unto his people: sometimes Christ doth manifest himself in the way of private ordinances, when they seek him in their families, or in their closets (in private prayer), or when they speak of him in conference...6
and the Lord Himself draws near and goes with us; or when we think of Him in meditation and our hearts are raised to those things which are above.
Vincent goes on to say, 'Sometimes Christ doth manifest himself ... in the way of public ordinances',7and in prayer. Have we not known that in our prayer meetings, or when the minister has prayed, or in hearing the Word of God read or preached? Have not our hearts been melted with a sense of the presence of Christ at the Lord's table? What is impressed upon us then? His excellency: something of the beauty, something of the wonder, something of the all-suitability of the Lord Jesus Christ, His all-greatness, all His riches and all my poverty. 'Jesus, Jesus, all-sufficient, Beyond telling is Thy worth'. 8
Perhaps it is His presence that is impressed upon us: we know that He is with us. Or it might be a wonderful sense of His love to us: His love is more wonderful than wine (Song 1:4), and we are intoxicated by His love.
This is testified in history, and we have great worthies who would say an amen to this wonderful truth. Think of Jonathan Edwards, so greatly used of God in America in the 18th century. He records thus:
Once as I rode out into the woods for my health in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer (this is the point that is so relevant), I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. (Oh, that we might know something of this!) ... The person of Christ appears ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception — which continued as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud.9
The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent. This is not restricted to men. His wife writes,
all night I continued in a constant, dear, and lively sense of the heavenly sweetness of Christ's excellency and the transcendent love, of his nearness to me, and of my dearness to him; with an inexpressibly sweet calmness of soul in an entire rest in him.10
But this is not merely the preserve of theologians, preachers and of ministers' wives. I am sure some of you have read that wonderful book, The Days of the Fathers of Ross-shire.11
Any Scottish brethren here can testify to its sweetness. There is in it the record of a man of Dingwall called Colin of the Peats who dealt with peat — and how very black that peat could be. This man Colin of the Peats took on the colour of the peats. We are told in that volume that up to the hundredth year of his life he continued in darkness and in ignorance. His mind was in the weakness of a second childhood. He attended church as many people did in those days, but it seemed that every Sabbath Day the Word of God made no impact upon him. What could you expect from such a man as this, an aged man, a man now coming into the experience of this second childhood?
But in that volume it is said of him that one Sabbath his face altered and his expression was different (Would that we would know more and more of that on the Sabbath Day, rather than eyelids heavy, people's heads sinking to their breasts in falling asleep!) The reason for it was — as he said to his minister subsequently — 'I saw a most beautiful one last Sabbath.' 'Where did you see him?' 'In the sermon'. 'What was his appearance, Colin?' 'Oh, he was fairer than the sons of men; I can't tell what he was like, for he was altogether lovely'.
Oh, that Christ would so appear to us! Oh, that on the Sabbath Day as we go to the house of God it would be like no other day in our experience: that we might see the Beloved through the preaching of the preacher, that with the preaching of the preacher Christ may be conveyed to our souls! It is known too at the time of the last Revival in Wales — not the best revival, as many no doubt would say and yet nonetheless a revival, mixed with other things — God did visit the land. One man testified that he was born naturally in a house opposite Tumble Public Hall on the 12th July 1878, and was born spiritually at Penygroes Emelyn Colliery on the 16th February 1905. Regarding his conversion, he said
I remember on that memorable day Jesus Christ was a real companion to me and when we were walking down from Penygroes down to Cross Hands along the railway line, although I couldn't see him with my natural eyes, I felt him by my side as a living, bright reality. When we came to the crossing where the gates are I noticed that the gate was open but not enough for the two of us; because I felt I could not change my position at his side I didn't like to go before him or behind him, so I asked him, 'Lord, what shall we do now?' But that was nothing to him and we went right through.12
The reality of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the glories of His person and the sweetness of His love, Mr. Ramsbottom records in his book about William Gadsby.13In it he relates Gadsby's vision of Christ on the Saturday morning just prior to his death, in which the Lord shone into his soul. John Ashworth, a member of the Chapel, said 'You can sleep now that you have had a sweet visit from your precious Christ'. William Gadsby said, 'Yes'. As the Psalmist said, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me' (Psalm 23:4).
Oh, the place of the Word of God in experimental knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ: He walks in the Scriptures, He speaks in the Scriptures, we find the Pearl of Great Price in the Scriptures, and He then reveals Himself to us with inexpressible delight by the Spirit. This is orthodoxy, that you might know Christ, that we might know Him. He makes Himself known. It is the very nature of love to disclose itself.
This is a promise that is given to us by His own lips: 'he that hath my commandments, and keepeth them ... he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him'. It is given to His disciples, to all disciples: unto the loving, obedient soul, the soul who loves because he has first been loved. By redeeming love, he evidences that love in obedience, seeking to walk carefully before God and keeping short accounts with Him. Upon such an one Christ will shine, will draw near to him, will manifest Himself unto him. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him and He will show them His Covenant.
Oh, may Christ draw near to our souls! May we have communion when we meet with Him privately, when we meet with Him in our families, when we go up unto the house of God. May He stand amongst us in His risen power. May He reveal the loveliness of His grace. May we know His presence and may we taste the sweetness of His love. Amen.