1 John 4:17
The love of God is presented in two very distinct ways in this chapter. First, in verse 9 as manifested in giving His Son for us, and then in verse 17, in its double fruit of love and tight in us.
God’s love in contrast to man’s love is distinguished by this, that while man must have something to draw out his love, as it is said, “For a good man some would even dare to die; but God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” God’s love is without motive, there being nothing attractive in the object that calls it out. “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” God’s love sees no good in us. The brightest proof of God’s love and man’s enmity was seen in the cross. They met there, and the superiority of God’s love was manifested; as Jethro says, “In the thing wherein they dealt proudly, he was above them.”
Having shewn out the first fruit in verse 9, that is, the open manifestation of His love to us while we were yet sinners, we learn His purposes and counsels about us as saints; in the second place, in verse 17, “Herein is love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world.” This is a very different thing from His first visiting us in our sins. “Herein is love with us made perfect.” The perfectness of God’s love toward His saints is seen in the bringing them to be like Himself. The sovereign grace of God puts the saint into the same place as Christ, that we may have the same kind of fellowship with the Father that Christ had. So in John 14 the Lord says, “My peace I give unto you”—that is, the peace He had with the Father— “not as the world giveth give I unto you.” The world has a character of a benefactor, and that it sometimes gives generously I do not deny, but then it is by helping a man, as he is, out of the resources which it has, which may be all very well, because by helping him it is only taking care of itself; but it is evidently a different thing here, for Christ takes us clean out of our condition, putting us into the same relationship with the Father as Himself.
The world cannot give in this way; there is no guarding anything for self in Christ’s unjealous love, but in us there is. Therefore He could say, “Not as the world giveth I unto you.” His delight was to shew that the Father loved them as He loved 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.” Jesus not only loves them Himself, but He will have it known by the world that they are loved by the Father, as He Himself is loved. Can there be anything more disinterested than this? (Though the word “disinterested” fails to give the full meaning.) Still all this is guarded, for Christ ever keeps His place as the eternal Son of God. As at the mount of transfiguration, the moment there is the question of putting Moses and Elias on an equality with Jesus, they both disappear: for when Peter said, “Let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias, while he thus spake there came a doud and overshadowed them,” and instantly they vanished. “And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son.” It is not said, “hear them,” but “hear him.” “And when the voice was past Jesus was found alone.”
If Christ in His wondrous grace reveals Moses and Elias as His companions and associates in glory, the moment Peter in his foolishness gives utterance to the thought that would place them on an equality with Christ, they must both vanish from the scene. It does not say, “as the Father loves me,” but “as he loved me “(as a man), for however Christ may bring us into the same place with Himself, if we elevate ourselves to an equality with Christ, immediately we shall be above Him; and it is ever the case that the more a saint enters into his elevation as being brought into the same place with Christ, the more he adores Christ as God over all, blessed for evermore.
This is ever to be borne in mind. The thought in verse 17, “As he is so are we,” is of putting the saints in the same place as Christ. If I have righteousness, it is a divine righteousness, “We are made the righteousness of God in him”; if eternal life, it is a divine life, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear”; if glory, it is the same glory, “The glory which thou hast given me, I have given them”: if it is the inheritance, we are “joint-heirs with Christ”; if love, it is the same love wherewith the Father loved Christ, “Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” The love is the most difficult thing for us to enter into, but the Lord would have our hearts enjoying it.
All that we have in Christ is brought out in this passage, in this general expression of God’s grace to bless us, not only by Christ but with Christ. Christ could not be satisfied unless it was so, we being the fruit of the travail of His soul. “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me.” Again, “I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also.” The Father’s love is seen in giving His Son to die for us, and thus bringing us into the perfect place. Some Christians do not give verse 17 all its power. They refer it simply to our position before God, respecting the day of judgment. Whatever judgment may come, the saint has nothing to do-with it, for where there is a question about judgment, there can be no boldness.
There is nothing more comforting than the perfect confidence of having God as my Father. I cannot get the affections in full play if I think God is going to judge me. But if I have the Spirit of adoption, and I sin or do wrong, I run to my Father directly, because I know my Father is not going to judge me for it; for God is my Father and not my Judge. Therefore boldness is needed for the exercise of spiritual affections in me. And we ought to remember this, for Christians often shrink from it, but it is evident that if I am hesitating whether God is going to bless me or to judge me, I cannot love Him.
Then observe another thing. There is a great difference between spiritual desires and spiritual affections, though both have the same root. Spiritual desires, if the relationship which would meet them be not known, only produce sorrow. Take an orphan, for instance, in a family where the parents’ love to the children is witnessed every day; the sorrowful experience would be, Oh, that I had a father! The child who has its parents has the same desires, but the relationship exists of parent and child, and it knows the joy and gladness. As the children of God we must have the consciousness of the relationship in which we stand to God. It is not merely that we have a divine nature, which gives us spiritual desires, but we must also have a consciousness of the relationship into which we are brought by the power of what Christ has done.
It is clear there never could be a question between Christ and His Father, as He daily and hourly enjoyed the consciousness of His Father’s love. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” So also He says, “My peace I give unto you.” Again He says, “That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” The Father’s delight was in Christ, and He knew it in the daily enjoyment of it. Well, “as he is, so are we.” While Christ lays the ground of our relationship by being the propitiation for our sins and the source of our life, yet it is not by Christ’s righteousness that I get boldness. I must be righteous, of course; I cannot have boldness without it, but besides this there is another character God has toward me, that of a Father; and I have another character towards God, that of a child. I have not only righteousness, but I am a son.
And here I would notice the defectiveness of some of our hymns, which call Christ our brother. We never find in Scripture that Christ is called our brother. In the fulness of His grace He is not ashamed to call us brethren. My father is a man, but I do not call him a man. It would shew a want of filial reverence in me if I did.
In nothing is the power of the Spirit of God more shewn in the child of God than in the suitableness of his expressions and feelings towards God. If we are really enjoying the place of infinite privilege, the source and giver of these privileges will maintain His own proper place in our hearts. Theorising about it will not do. A common expression is, We cannot be always on the mount. So far this is true, because we all have our place of service down here; but I would observe, that being in the mount of God’s presence always humbles, though when a saint gets down again he may be proud of having been there. Paul was not puffed up when he was in God’s presence caught up to the third heavens; but, after he had been there, he needed a thorn in the flesh lest he should be exalted above measure. The heart is never proud in God’s presence, and, only when it is really there, is it really in its right place, for when out of it the flesh turns everything into mischief. “As he is, so are we,” not only in the same standing and acceptance as Christ, but brought by the communication of His life into the same relationship as Himself. While in the beginning of the epistle the foundation is laid deep and wide in the cleansing blood, still the grand subject of the epistle is the place into which we are brought. “Herein is love with us made perfect.” If my heart has seized the truth that God as a Father is acting in grace towards me, there is no place for fear. In all my need, and even in that with which I ought to have nothing to do, in all my sin, I fly to Him. I could not in my sin fly to my judge, but I have confidence in my Father’s love and I fly to Him without fear; for “perfect love casteth out fear.” In all sins and follies I can always look to Him who gave His Son for me. That is where grace puts me. The proof of God’s love is, He has given His Son; the perfection of His love is, that He has brought us into His presence.