My Dear Friends,
Sometimes you read something or hear something that takes your breath away. I was sitting recently in a conference listening to a friend richly expound a central theme in the ministry of Jeremiah. He then quoted some words of Geerhardus Vos that were literally stunning. Commenting on God’s words in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” Vos wrote, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began” (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. By Richard B Gaffin, p.298).
Perhaps I am overly exposing my own ignorance when I tell you that Vos' words deeply impacted me. I am not sure I had ever really thought that there was never a time when God did not love me. I knew, because the Bible never tires of telling me, that God loved his people with an everlasting love. Like many of you, perhaps, that astonishing truth pointed me forward and assured me that unto times eternal, God would love all his believing people with an undying, un-ending love. Vos, however, points us back, if we can speak so, into the recesses of eternity. There was never a time when God did not love his people. Is this not staggering? Does this not leave you breathless with wonder? Do you not find yourself wholly out of your depth? Why, O Lord, such love to me?
For Vos, this fact, for fact it is, should minister the deepest comfort to our souls: “In the unlimitable round of His timeless existence, we have never been absent from nor uncared for by Him.” It is this everlasting love that sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world “as the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:11). Our great Saviour did not come to win God’s love for us; he was and continues to be himself the gift of God’s love to us. This is something we greatly need to grasp and be grasped by. Nothing would more minister comfort and assurance to our lives than being gripped by the inexplicable wonder of God’s everlasting love for his believing people. John Owen, the great English Puritan pastor-theologian well understood how vital it was for Christians to understand this truth. Because he never ceased to think and feel as a pastor, Owen anticipates a query when Christians hear that God has loved them with an everlasting love: “I cannot find my heart making returns of love unto God. Could I find my soul set upon him, I could then believe that his soul delighted in me.” To this Owen responds, “This is the most preposterous course that possibly thy thoughts can pitch upon... ‘Herein is love’, saith the Holy Ghost, ‘not that we loved God, but that he loved us’ first, 1 John 4:10,11. Now thou wouldst invert this order, and say, ‘Herein is love, not that God loved me, but that I loved him first’... this is a course of flesh’s finding out that will never bring glory to God, nor peace to thy own soul. Lay down then, thy reasonings, take up the love of the Father upon a pure act of believing, and that will open thy soul to let it out unto the Lord in the communion of love.”
Owen knows only too well that faith alone will enable us to enter into the blessed comfort of being loved by the Father with his everlasting love. He urges us, indeed he pleads with us, not to look first into our own hearts to find “returns of love unto God.” That would be fatal. Rather, begin with God and the revelation of his love for us in Christ. There is, of course, a place for self-examination; but only ever in the light of God’s pre-venient, sovereign, everlasting love for us in Christ. Too often, much too often, we look into ourselves for encouragement, when our great need is to immerse ourselves in the Father’s everlasting love for us in Christ.
All of this constrains us to adoring, heart-stopping doxology. We come increasingly to understand that the supreme focus of the believing life is God’s unfathomable grace to sinners. Thomas Goodwin made the point memorably: “Grace is more than mercy and love, it superadds to them. It denotes not simply love, but the love of a sovereign, transcend(ent) superior, one that may do what he will, that may wholly choose whether he will love or no... Now God, who is an infinite Sovereign, who might have chosen whether ever He would love us or no, for Him to love us, this is grace.” Such is the nature of God’s everlasting love to believing sinners. How then are we to live? In glad, thankful, speechless, adoring wonder, that God should so love us. Nothing is more calculated to inspire us to present our bodies to him as living sacrifices.
Yours in the grip of everlasting love,