“His Great Love”
“His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.”
Ephesians 2:4, 5
You notice, in this chapter, the remarkable change of subject which commences at the 4 th verse. Paul had been givinga very sad description of what even the saints are by nature and of their conduct before conversion. And then, as if he was quite weary of writing upon that painful topic, he says, “But God”–and goes on to tell what God has done. What a relief it is to turn from ourselves and from our fellow men, to God! And I do not know when God, in His rich mercy, ever seems so lovely in our eyes as when we have just gazed upon our own abundant sins. The diamond shines all the more brilliantly when it has a suitable foil to set off its brightness–and man seems to act as a foil for the goodness and the mercy of God! Perhaps you remember that the Psalmist, when he had said in his haste, “All men are liars,” turned abruptly from that theme and said, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” It is as if he had said, “I will not have anything more to do with man. I find him to be only like a broken cistern that can hold no water–but as for my God, He has never failed me and He never will–so, ‘I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.’”
I want, at this time, to intertwine these two subjects–ourselves in our fall and God in His Grace–ourselves in our sin and God in His love–“His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.” I shall not need so much to preach as just to refresh your memories–to revive your recollections of the great tidings which the Lord, in His Grace, has done for you. I want you who know the Lord to remember what you were–and what God has done for you. Those two themes will bring out the greatness of His love, so they shall be our two objects for meditation. First, what wewere. .
- First, then, WHAT WE WERE. The text says that “we were dead in sins.”
O Believer, whatever life of a spiritual kind you have in you, today, was given to you by God! It was not yours by nature. Before God looked upon you in love and pity and said unto you, “Live,” you were dead! That is to say, as far as spiritual things are concerned, you were insensible–insensible alike to the bearers of Divine Wrath and to the melodiesof Divine Love. You could even lie at the foot of Sinai and not shake with fright, although Moses did exceedingly fear and quake. And you could lie at the foot of the Cross and yet not be melted by the death-cries of Immanuel, although the earth did quake and the rocks were rent and the graves were opened at that doleful sound! Do you not remember, Beloved, when you passed through such a time as that? I do–when utter callousness and coldness of heart reigned supreme within us, when the world–painted harlot as she is–could attract us, but we were insensible to the inexpressible beauties of Him who is altogether lovely, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!
And as we were insensible to spiritual things, being dead, so we were, at that time, without power to do anything.We were preached to, called and bid to come, but, as far as all goodness was concerned, we were like a corpse–unable to hear the sweetest music, or the crack of doom resounding overhead! Do you not remember, dear Friends, when it was so with you? You thought then that you could do something good in your own strength, but it was a dreadful failure when you attempted it! Your resolutions, when you got as far as resolving, all fell to the ground, for you were, in the emphatic words of Paul, “without strength.” Yes, you were insensible and powerless.
And, what is worse still, we were then without will or desire to come to God. We had no disposition to movetowards the Lord, no aspirations after holiness, no longing after communion with our Creator. We loved the world and were content to fill our treasury with its paltry pelf. This seemed to be the only portion for which we cared. If we could have become rich and increased with goods, we would have said, “Soul, take your ease–there is nothing more for you to desire.”
That was our state by nature. We were dead. And did the Lord love us then, when there was nothing whatever in usto commend us to Him–nothing by which we could possibly rise into a condition that would be estimable in His sight? Did He love us then? Yes, He did–and there must have been surprising Grace in that “great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.”
While we were dead as to spiritual things, there was, alas, a life in us of another kind. If you read the chapter fromwhich our text is taken, you will find that the dead people are described as walking. They were walking corpses–a strange commingling of metaphors, and yet most certainly true with regard to all ungodly men. They are dead to goodness, but, as for the evil within them, how full of life it is! The devil within them and the flesh within them were active and, as the corpse gives forth corruption and fills the tomb with putridity, so did our sin continually give forth evil emanations which must have been most nauseous to God! Yet, notwithstanding all this, “He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.”
Let me just mention some of the unlovely and unlovable things which God saw in us while we were in that dead state. One of the first was this–we were ungrateful. It is very difficult to continue to love ungrateful persons. If you seek to dothem good and yet you receive no thanks from them–if you persevere in doing them good and yet, for all that, they are unkind to you–it is not in flesh and blood to continue to love them. Yet, my Brothers and Sisters in Christ, what ingratitude to God was once in our hearts! What favors the Lord bestowed upon us–not merely daily bread and temporal blessings, but there were real spiritual gifts of His Grace presented to us–yet we turned our backs upon them all and, still worse, we turned our backs upon Him who gave them to us! How sad it is that many people live year after year without ever recognizing the God who gives them so many mercies and blessings! Perhaps, now and then, there is a “thank God” uttered in idleness or as a compliment–but there is no heart in it. The ingratitude of some of us was greater even than that of others, for we were born of godly parents, we were nurtured in the home of piety, we heard scarcely a sound in our infancy that was not mingled with the name of Jesus and yet, as we grew up, these very things we regarded as restraints! And sometimes we wished that we could do as other people’s children did and half regretted that we had godly friends who watched so carefully over our conduct. The Lord might have said to us, “I have done so much for you, yet you exhibit no gratitude. I will, therefore, leave you and give these favors to others.” But, in His great mercy, although we were so ungrateful, He did not act like that.
What is even worse, we were complaining and murmuring. Do you not remember, in your unconverted state, myFriend, how scarcely anything seemed to please you? This thing happened quite contrary to your wishes and that was not at all to your liking–and the other was not according to your notion of what should be. The Prophet Jeremiah asked, “Why does a living man complain?” But we seemed to ask, “Why should we leave off complaining?” We murmuredagainst the Lord notwithstanding the great mercies that He gave us. We rebelled against Him and waxed worse and worse. It is a difficult thing for us to love a murmurer. When you try to do a man good and he only grumbles at what you do for him, you are very apt to say, “Very well, I will take my favors where they will be better appreciated.” But God did not act like that towards us–“His great love with which He loved us” was not to be turned away from us even by our murmuring and complaining!
And all that while, dear Friends, we were trifling with spiritual things. Like those people mentioned in the parablewho, when they were invited to the marriage feast, “made light of it,” so did we. We were warned to escape from Hell, but it seemed too like an idle tale! We were bid to seek after Heaven, but we loved the things of this world too well to barter them for joys unseen and eternal. We were told that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and it seemed to be a story that we had heard so often that we called it “a platitude.” We were earnestly entreated to lay hold on Christ and to find eternal life in Him, but we said, “Perhaps we will tomorrow,” proving that we did not care about it, but would make God wait at our beck and call when it should be convenient for us! You know that if a man is in an ill state of health and you, as a doctor, go to help him, but he merely laughs at his illness and says that he does not care about it, you are very apt to say, “Then, why should I care? You are sick and I am anxious to heal you, but you say that you do not care to be healed. Very well, then, I will go to some other patient who will entreat me to use my best skills on his behalf and who will be grateful to me when I have used them.” But the Lord did not act like that with us. Notwithstanding our trifling, He was in earnest. He meant to heal our soul-sickness and He did heal it! Determined to save us, He would not heed the rebuff of our carelessness and callousness, but still persevered in manifesting toward us that “great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.”
To make the deformity of our character still worse–we were all the while proud–as proud as Lucifer! We had notany righteousness of our own, yet we thought we had. We were far off from God by wicked works, yet we stood before Him like the Pharisee in the Temple and thanked Him that we were not as other men! We were quite content though we had nothing to be content with. We were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” yet we said that we were “rich, and increased with goods, and had need of nothing.” As for shedding penitential tears, we left that work to those who had sinned more deeply than we had, for we imagined that we had kept all the Commandments from our youth up! Thus we despised the Savior because we exalted ourselves. We thought little of Christ because we thought muchof ourselves. And so, in our pride, we dared to strut before the eternal Throne of God as if we were some great ones, though we were but worms of the dust! I think that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to love a proud man. You can love a man even though he has a thousand faults if he is not proud and boastful–but when he is very proud, human nature seems to start back from him. Yet God, in His “great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins,” loved us although we were proud and loved us out of that sinful state.
If worse could be, there was something even worse than pride in us, for we were deceptive as well as proud. “No,"says one, "surely you cannot truthfully lay that to our charge.” Well, I have to confess that it was so with myself. I remember that when I was ill, I said that if God would only spare my life, I would live differently in the future. But my promise was not kept, though God did spare my life. Often, after hearing a stirring sermon, I sought a place where I could weep in secret and I said, “Now I will be decided for the Lord.” But it was not so. Oh, how many times have we broken the promises and vows we made to the Lord! Child of God, before your conversion, how many vows and covenants you made–yet your goodness was like the morning cloud or the early dew which soon passes away. Who can love one who is not to be trusted? Yet, God, in “His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins,” loved us while we so many times deceived Him!
These things which I have mentioned have appertained to all the children of God, but there are some of them whose sins have been even greater than these. I ask every converted man here to look through his own biography. Some of you were, perhaps, converted while you were young and so were kept from the grosser sins into which others fall. But there were some who were allowed to go into drunkenness, or into uncleanness and all manner of iniquity. God has forgiven you, my Brothers and Sisters, and has washed all that evil away in the precious blood of Jesus, but you feel that you can never forgive yourself. I know that I am bringing some very unhappy memories before you, of which you say, “Would God that night had never been, or that day had never passed over my head!” The Lord grant that as you look back upon those sins of yours, you may feel deeply humbled and, at the same time, may be devoutly grateful to God for “His great love” with which He has loved you!
There have been some who seem as if they had gone to the utmost extremity of sin–as if they dared and defied the Most High. And yet, notwithstanding their atrocious sins, Free Grace has won the day! There has seemed, in some cases, to be a stern struggle between sin and Grace, as if sin said, “I will provoke God till Grace shall leave Him,” but Grace has said, “Provoked as the Lord is, yet still will He stand to His purpose of mercy–He will not turn away from the decree of His love.” Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, I ask you to think this subject over in your own private meditations. There are some things that it would not be right to mention in any ear but the ear of God, for it certainly was a horrible pit out of which He took us, and miry clay, indeed, out of which He drew us–so we may well praise “His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in sins.”
II. The second subject for our meditation is WHAT GOD DID FOR US “even when we were dead in sins.”
Well, first of all, He remained faithful to His choice of us. He had chosen His people before the earth was and He didnot choose them in the dark. He knew right well what their nature would be and also the practice which would grow out of their nature–so that nothing that has happened has ever surprised the Lord concerning any one of His people. He was well aware beforehand of all their corruption and filthiness. So, when He saw them acting as I have described, He did not turn from His purpose to save them. Blessed be His name for this! It is one of the wonders of His Grace that God proves the greatness of His love.
Then, next, as He did not repent of His choice, so neither did He repent of His redemption of His people. You willfind it recorded in Scripture that “it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart,” but you never read that He repented of Redemption! Nowhere in Scripture is there such a passage as this, “It grieved the Lord at His heart that He had given His Son to die for such unworthy ones.” No, my Friends, He had bought us with a price beyond all calculation, even the heart’s blood of His only-begotten Son, so that, although we went from sin to sin and, for a time resisted all the calls of the Gospel, He did not turn from His purpose of love and mercy, nor make His Atonement for us null and void.
Then, further, in His great love for us, God would not let us die till He had brought us to Christ. We possibly passedthrough many perils and had many escapes. John Bunyan, you will remember, was to have stood as sentinel one night, but another soldier took his place, and was shot. John Bunyan did not know, at the time, why the exchange was made, but God had ordained that he should not die till he had been brought to Christ. So fool-hardy was he that on one occasion he plucked the sting out of a viper with his bare hand, yet he was unhurt, for God would not let him die while he was such a desperado! And what amazing escapes from shipwreck, from murder, from fever, from “accidents” in a thousand forms some men have had simply because God will not let them perish, for He means that they shall yet be brought as sheep into His fold! I told you, some time ago, that I once talked with a gentleman who was in the famous charge at Balaclava–and I felt moved to say to him, “Surely God had some designs of love toward you, or He would not have spared you when so many were being taken away.” Well, in whatever way our lives have been spared, we ascribe it to the great love with which God loved us even when we were dead in sins.
We see that great love also manifested in the way in which God restrained us from many sins. There have been timesin our history when, if it had not been for a mysterious check that was put upon us, we would have sinned much worse than we ever did. Something of that kind happened in the case of the well-known Colonel Gardiner. He had made an appointment for the commission of a very gross sin, but the Lord had chosen him unto eternal life–so that night, which he intended to spend in sin–became the time of his conversion to God! And you know what a devout and earnest Christian he became. The Lord knows the right time to say to anyone, “Thus far shall you go, but no farther.” He makes men’s minds and hearts, like the sea, to know His will and to move or be still at His Divine command. Cannot some of you, my Brothers and Sisters, recollect the way in which God thus restrained you from going to an excess of riot?
And, then, His great love was seen by the way in which He kept on calling us by His Grace. Some of us can scarcelytell when we were first bid to come to the Savior. A mother’s tears and a father’s prayers are, however, among the fondlycherished memories of that early call. Do not some of you remember that loving Sunday school teacher and the earnestness with which she pleaded with you? And that godly minister and how he seemed to throw his whole soul into the work of entreating you to yield yourself to the Savior? Others of you cannot forget how with good books, letters, entreaties and persuasions from Christian friends, you have been followed as if the Lord had hunted you out of your sins by all the agencies that could possibly be used–yet you dodged, twisted and doubled this way and that way, trying to escape from your gracious Pursuer! You were like a bird that the fowler cannot take for a long while, or like a wandering sheep that the shepherd cannot find for many a day!
But the Good Shepherd never gave up the search–He meant to find you and He did. He had determined to save you–and from that determination He would not be turned aside, do whatever you might! And, at last, there came the blessed day when He subdued you unto Himself! The weapons of your rebellion fell from your hands, for Christ had conquered you! And how did He do it? By “His great love”–His Omnipotent Grace. You were dead in sins when His Spirit came to work them upon you, but the Spirit came, in the name of the risen Savior, with such almighty force of Irresistible Love that you were carried captive–a willing captive–at the chariot wheels of your Divine Conqueror! Shall we ever forget that blessed time? We sing “Happy day! Happy day!” and well we may, for that conquest is the chief and foremost token of “His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.”
I will not say more about this precious Truth of God, but I will use the few minutes still at my disposal in making a practical application of my subject.
If, dear Friends, the Lord loved us with such great love even when we were dead in sins, do you think that He willever leave us to perish? Have you indulged the notion that under your present trial, whatever it may be, you will be deserted by your God? My dear widowed Sister, do you fear that the Lord will forsake you now that your husband is dead? My friend over there–you who have had heavy losses in business–do you not believe that the Lord will help you through? Did He love you when you were dead in sins and is He going to desert you now? Do you think you will ever have to ask, with the Psalmist, “Is His mercy clean gone forever? Does His promise fail forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” If you do talk like that, then ask yourself why the Lord ever began His work of love upon you if He did not mean to finish it, or if He meant, after all, to cast you off? Do you think, if that was His intention, He would ever have begun with you? He knew all that would happen to you and all that you would do, so that nothing comes unexpectedly to Him! Known unto the Lord from the beginning, were all your trials and all your sins so that, as He still loved you, in the foresight of all that was to happen to you, do you think that He will now, or ever, cast you away from Him? You know that He will not!
Again, if He so loved you even when you were dead in sins, will He deny you anything that is for His own Glory andfor your own and other’s good? You have been praying, but you have feared that the mercy you asked would never come. Think for a moment–He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for you centuries before you were born–will He not freely give to you all that you ought to ask of Him now that you are alive unto Him? George Herbert speaks of the dew that falls upon the grass, although the grass cannot call for the dew–but you do call upon God to give you His Grace–so shall not His Grace come copiously to you as the dew falling when God sends it? Does He water the earth when its dumb mouth opens? Does He provide food for the “dumb driven cattle?” Then will He not attend to your cries and prayers when you call upon Him in the name of His well-beloved Son? If He loved you when you were a man of corruption, will He not answer your supplications, now that He has made you to be an heir of Heaven and formed you in the likeness of His Son? O, Beloved, be of good comfort and let no thought of despondency, or of unbelief ever cross your mind!
Further, if the Lord loved you thus even when you were dead in sins, ought you not now love Him very much? Oh,the love of God! The Apostle does not say that God pitied us, though that is true. He does not say that the Lord had compassion upon us, though that is also true. But Paul speaks of “His great love.” I can perfectly understand God’s pitying me. I can perfectly understand God’s having compassion on me. But I cannot comprehend God’s loving me–norcan you. Think what it means–He loves you! Sweet above all other things is love–a mother’s love, a father’s love, a husband’s love, a wife’s love–but all these are only faint images of the love of God! You know how greatly you are cheered by the earthly love of one who is dear to you–but Paul says that God loves you! He that made the heavens and the earth, before whom you are as an ant, has set His heart’s affection upon you! He loves you so much that He has made great sacrifices for you. He is daily blessing you and He will not be in Heaven without you! So dear, so strong is His love to you–and it was so even when you were dead in sins! Oh, then, will you not love Him much in return for His “great love” to you? Is anything too hard for you to bear for His dear sake, or anything too difficult for you to do for Him who loved you so? Dear Lord, we give
ourselves to You–‘tis all that we can do!
Another reflection for you, my Christian Friend, is this. If God so loved you even when you were dead in sins, oughtnot you to love those who treat you badly? There are many people in this world who seem as if they could not do anything but ugly things. They have not a generous spot in their nature. They are cross-grained, always quarrelling and he who would gladly live peaceably with them sometimes finds it very hard work. I know some gentle spirits that are deeply wounded by the hard and cruel things that are said or done to them by their relatives or companions. Well, dear Friends, if any of us are treated thus, let us love these cruel people! Let us cover their unkindness over with our love, for, if God loved us even when we were dead in sins–when He could not see anything in us to love–we also ought to love others for His sake! Even when we see a thousand faults in them, we must, say, “As God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, so do we forgive you.” It is a grand thing to be able to bury in eternal forgetfulness every unkind word or act that has ever caused us pain. If any of you have any thought of anger in your heart against anyone–if you have any feeling of resentment–if you have any recollection of injuries. If there is anything that vexes and grieves you, come and bury it allin the grave of Jesus–for if He loved you when you were dead in sins–it cannot be half so wonderful for you to love your poor fellow sinner whatever ill treatment you may have received at his hands!
My last word is to the unconverted and it is a very sweet and precious word. Do you see, unconverted man, that you need never say, “I dare not come to God through Jesus Christ because then is nothing good in me”? You need never say that, for Paul speaks of “His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins.” Now, if all His people were loved by Him when they were dead in sins, how can you think that God requires anything good in man as the cause or reason for His love? Of all the saints in Heaven it may be said that God loved them because He would do it, for, by nature, there was nothing more in them for God to love than there was in the very devils in Hell! And as to His saints on earth, if God loves them–and He does–it is simply because He will do it, for there was no goodness whatever in themby nature! God loves them in the Infinite Sovereignty of His great loving Nature. Well, then, poor Soul, why should not God love you? And since He bids you come to Him, however empty you may be of everything that is good, come to Him,and welcome! Let the text knock on the head, once and for all, all ideas of doing anything to win the love of God! And ifyou feel yourself to be the very worst, lowest and meanest of the human race, I rejoice that you feel that, for the Lord loves to look upon those who are self-emptied and who have nothing good of their own to plead before Him! These are the people who will value His love and upon such people as these it is that He bestows His love. “The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.” The hospital is for the man who is diseased, not for the one who is in health. And the Lord Jesus Christ has opened a Hospital for incurables–for those who cannot be cured by all the medicines of human morality and outward religion! Christ bids them come to Him that He may make them whole!
I wish I had the power to speak of the love of God to the sinner in such a way that he would come to the Lord Jesus Christ, but I will try to put the brush very plainly and simply–and then I will close my discourse. My Hearer, whatever you may have been up to, to this moment–if you have been a despiser of God, an infidel, a blasphemer–if you have added sin to sin, if you have made yourself black as Hell with enormous transgressions–yet all this is no reason why God should not have chosen you and loved you! And all this is no reason why He should not now forgive you and accept you! No, He puts it thus in His Word–“Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
Come then, you blackest of sinners–you who feel yourselves unfit to be found in a House of Prayer–you who, like the publican in the Temple, scarcely dare to lift up your eyes to Heaven–you condemned ones who fear that there is no hope for you–let me assure you that in you there is space for God’s mercy to be displayed! There is elbowroom for His Grace to work! Come to Jesus just as you are! Accept the Atonement made by His own blood and be saved here and now, for He waits to be gracious and He has said, “Him that comes to Me, I will in no wise cast out.”
I recollect the time, many years ago, when I would have given both my eyes to hear such Truth as I have preached tonight! It would not have mattered to me who had told it to me. If it had been a man of stammering tongue and faulty grammar, if he had but said to me, “Salvation is of God’s Grace, not of your merit. It is of God’s goodness, not of your holiness–you have nothing to do but to rest on what Christ has done, for God loves even you who are dead in sins”–if I had known that, I think I would have found peace with God long before I did. Does anyone say, “But I need to feel andI need to do, and I need to find out this, and that, and the other?” You need nothing of the kind, Sinner! Christ has doneit all! To take any merit of your own to Christ would be worse than carrying coals to Newcastle! Come just as you are–an empty-handed sinner, a bankrupt sinner, a starving sinner, you who are at the very gates of Hell, for–
“There is life for a look at the Crucified One!
There is life at this moment for thee!
Then look, Sinner–look unto Him and be saved–
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.”