Christ First, Me last: Nothing Between but Love
“The faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”— Galatians ii. 20.
PAUL looks at the matter of salvation from the point of view suggested by grace. If any man might have said, “The Son of God, whom I have loved, and to whom I have given myself,” it would have been the apostle. On another occasion, speaking of the Lord, he said, “Whose I am, and whom I serve;” but here he thinks not of himself, or of what he had been led to do for the Lord, but only of what the Lord had done for him. He dug down to the foundation of salvation; he traced the stream of grace back to the fountain-head; and therefore he spoke of “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
You will not do wrong, my beloved friends, if you meditate on what the grace of God has enabled you to do, if you do it humbly, and if you praise God for it. I think that we sometimes forget to give glory to the Lord for the sanctification we have already received. I have heard persons thank God for their health, and for their wealth; but I have not so often heard them express gratitude for grace. I do not know that I wish to hear them praise God for their virtue; but still, if they have any, and they know that they have it, let them praise God for it, for what virtue have they which they have not received? If you have any faith, if you have any hope, if you have any love, if there is any difference between you and your fellow-men, if you possess anything by which God is glorified, you ought to thank him for it, and to praise and bless his holy name. Still, there would always be a tendency, in dwelling even on what we have done by the grace of God, to begin to get unduly exalted; and on the whole it is far wiser to think of what Christ has done for you than of what you have done for him. I say, again, you may think of what you have done for Christ, and give God the glory of it; but it will not be well to dwell upon that thought to any great extent. I am sure it will not do to think upon it in the hour of deep distress of mind, and especially in the prospect of death. Then we gather up all our good works, and throw them overboard; we look upon the best things that we have ever wrought, even by the power of the Spirit of God, as quite secondary to what Christ has wrought out for us, and brought in and laid before his Father as the ground of our acceptance with him.
I like to think of our text, and I invite you to think of it, in the light of free grace. “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I cannot preach much at this time; but I can talk to you a little of what I have tasted, and handled, and felt, and I pray the Holy Spirit to help you, not so much to hear the text explained, as to feel its gracious influence moving over your spirit, and awakening in your heart happy memories of gratitude for blessings received.
I. Our first division shall be, THE FACT REMEMBERED: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Paul speaks of it as a fact ascertainable, and one which he had himself ascertained, that Jesus Christ loved him, and gave himself for him. He is not speaking now of the love of benevolence which the Lord Jesus Christ has towards all men, or even of that aspect of his work which bears upon every creature under heaven; but he is thinking of that special love, that discriminating grace which had lighted upon him. That is the point around which our thoughts are to gather as we meditate upon Paul’s words, “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” The apostle knew that Christ had loved him, and had given himself for him; and we also may know it. It is not necessary for us to go through life merely hoping and fearing, questioning and enquiring; we may come to the certain knowledge of the fact, if it be a fact, that we have an interest in the special love of Jesus Christ, that we are redeemed from among men, that we are called and separated to be the Lord’s peculiar people, that each of us may be able to say of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I would not distress the mind of anyone who is feeble in faith, and who is clinging to Christ, but has never yet received full assurance of salvation; but I would encourage such a person never to rest until he gets rid of all questions, and is able to say without the slightest trepidation, “Who loved me, and gave himself for me”
Christ died to save sinners; the sinners who are saved by him are those who trust him; I trust him, therefore he has saved me. This is good, sound argument. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” I believe on him; therefore I have everlasting life. This is solid ground to rest upon. “He loved me, and gave himself for me,” whereof the evidence is that I trust him. I rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. To this will be added the evidences of a work of grace in the heart. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” “One thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see.” We know this also by the witness of the Holy Spirit, for “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” and so at last we come to say with as much confidence as Paul himself could say it, “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Away, then, with all doubts and questions; begone, ye evil birds that pollute the sacrifice! By a simple childlike faith we come to Jesus, and we take him to be our Saviour. We know that we cannot come unto Jesus except the Father, which sent him, draw us. Therefore we know that we are drawn by grace divine, and that he hath loved us with an everlasting love, because with lovingkindness he has evidently drawn us to himself. So, you see, Paul is speaking of a fact that is ascertainable, and a fact that in his own case was ascertained. If we do not get to know it for ourselves, we cannot rejoice in it.
Now just think for a few minutes of some well-known but very blessed truths which gather about this fact: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” And first, it is a divine love. Paul speaks of “the Son of God, who loved me.” There are some persons who would be greatly delighted if they heard that some nobleman loved them; and if we were informed that some prince or princess loved us, we might feel ourselves elevated; yet there would be very little in it to make us proud. If we were informed that an angel loved us with all the great heart of an unfallen spirit, we might take comfort from the fact; but the text reminds us that it is the Son of God who has loved us. I cannot talk about this divine love as it deserves, but I want you to try and feel in your soul, “Jesus Christ loves me; not merely feeds me, thinks upon me, is favourably inclined to me; but he loves me.” Love is a grand word, even in its silver use among men and women; but love in its golden use with God in heaven, what does it not mean? Oh, marvellous indeed is the love of God towards his people! I say again that I cannot worthily speak of it; words seem such poor things to express the love of God. They break their backs in trying to convey the wondrous weight of meaning. If this love is shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Ghost, your heart’s love will best read and understand this wondrous fact that the Divine Being, the everlasting Father, and his ever-blessed Son, and the sacred Spirit, the great Trinity in Unity, loves you. Oh, delight yourselves in this glorious truth! It is a sea of sweetness, dive into it, and be filled with it.
The language of the text also suggests to me that I should remind you that the love of Jesus was an ancient love. It is true that he loves us now, but Paul also wrote truly, “Who loved me.” The verb is in the past tense. Jesus loved me upon the cross; loved me in the manger of Bethlehem; loved me or ever the earth was. There never was a time when Jesus did not love his people. “Or ever the earth was,” I said just now, and I repeat it, he saw us in the glass of his eternal purposes, he foreknew us, he looked ahead, and saw what we should be, and who we should be, and his love went forth to us before the day-star ever began to shine. Do think of it. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” That he should love us at all, is a wonder; that he should have loved us always, is a wonder of wonders; and this love is a part of his eternal purposes, and is as old as his arrangements for the history of the universe. “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Truly, this was an ancient love.
Note further that, as this love was divine, and ancient, so it was a pre-eminently practical love: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Jesus could not give any more than himself. He not only gave his crown, his throne, his manhood, his life, his sufferings, his death, his offices, his excellences, his merits, but he gave himself, his Godhead, his humanity: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” It is not possible for you to measure the unknown depths of Christ’s sufferings; but if you could, you would not have arrived at “himself.” It is not merely that which he did and said that Jesus gave for us; but he gave himself. It was not simply that which belonged to him which Jesus handed over for us, but he gave himself: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
O beloved, I wish I had the strength and the ability to think and to speak to you upon this practical display of our Lord’s love as it deserves; but I have not. Meditate upon it, I pray you. He gave himself for you in the everlasting covenant when he stood as your Surety and Representative. He gave himself for you through the long ages in which he waited to come to earth to redeem you. He gave himself for you when he assumed your nature, and became bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh. He gave himself for you through a life of toil, and righteousness. He gave himself for you as your Substitute when he, “his own self, bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” In the scourging, the shame, the spitting, the bloody sweat, the crucifixion, he gave himself for you. Take these blessed words of the apostle, and put them in your mouth, and let them lie there as wafers made with honey, till they melt into your very soul: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” In all these wondrous senses, keeping back nothing, reserving for himself nothing, nay, not even the name of himself, he loved me, and gave himself for me. Truly, this was practical love.
And I may say of it, in the next place, that it was a love altogether immeasurable. If you measure a love by its gifts, you have certainly an immeasurable love here, because it was proved by an immeasurable gift. The nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is not to be comprehended. The wondrous union of Godhead and manhood made him, I was about to say, something more than God, for he had added to all the infinity of his Godhead the capacity to suffer as a man. But he gave himself at his utmost,— the boundless the inconceivable, the indescribable,— he gave himself for me. There is a limit to everything else, but not to the love of God. You say to the sea, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther,” but you cannot say that to this boundless sea of divine love. You do not know by experience how much God loves you; you have only drunk a little of the sweetness of this wondrous well of living water; but you cannot tell the depth of it. There is no bottom to it; you cannot exhaust its supply, you may drink, and drink, and drink again, through a long life, ay, and throughout eternity you may go on receiving of this love, but you will never measure its heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths. That is quite beyond your power. You can only love, dear mother, to a certain degree, though you love your child to the death; you can only love, dear husband, up to a certain point, though you are willing to lay down your life to raise your spouse from a sick bed; but God stops nowhere in bis love, it is boundless and infinite as be is himself.
Our Lord Jesus Christ cannot possibly or conceivably be limited in bis love. I do want you to try to get bold of this thought. Do notice it. HE loved me; such a one as he is, HE loved me.
“Christ first, me last: nothing between but love.”
Those words are very sweet to me, I read them somewhere, and they cling to my memory. “Who loved me,” the first word is “who”, the last word is “me”, and there is “nothing between but love.” Oh, that is a blessed position for anyone to be in! Christ shall be first, I will be glad to be anywhere, to be nothing, to be last, so long as there shall be this sweet link of love between my soul and my Saviour: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Let us reflect yet a moment further that this love is an abiding love: “Who loved me.” But he is unchanging, so that he loves me still. He cannot love me more, he will not love me less; he has loved me at no period more than he loves me now, and if just now I may be groaning because of my imperfections, and mourning because of my tribulations, yet he loved me so as to give himself for me, and he never has abated from that love, and he never will. It is a very fine thing, no doubt, to have worldly substance; but it melts like the hoar frost in the sun. It is a very great mercy to have bodily health; but how small a thing soon takes it away, and turns the joy of life into the shadow of death! But if you get this love of Christ, you have a treasure which never can be lost, a blessing that never will be exhausted. “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Sit down, dear child of God, and say to yourself, “Here I have something which I shall never lose; it cannot be taken from me. Oh, that by grace I may be enabled to rejoice in it, and to return the love of my poor heart to him who ceases not to love me!”
There is a great deal that might be said of such a Saviour as this; but I feel a consolation in my heart in being unable to say any very new and fresh thing to-night, for the subject in itself ought to be to you full of joy; and if your heart is right, it will be. If your heart is not right with God, you will be craving for fine expressions and pretty phrases. Judge your own spiritual condition, then, by this test, does this theme in itself touch you? “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I will use it as a thermometer, and drop it into your heart to see the warmth of your affection to Christ. If you be as you should be, full of a devout attachment to him, you will say, “Ay, that is all I want to feel, and know, he loved me, and gave himself for me!”
So much, then, upon the fact remembered.
II. Now, secondly, beloved friends, let me speak to you just for a few minutes on THE FAITH CONFESSED. Paul says, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Observe, first, that the faith which made Paul live was faith in a Person, “the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Possibly, some of you are trying to get faith, and yet you do not know what saving faith is. You have heard a great deal about it; but it is an astonishing thing that the best definition of faith in the world does not make men see what faith is. The gas may be very bright; but a man who is blind does not see any the better because of the brilliance of the light. The eyes of our soul must be opened if we are to see what faith is. Now, saving faith is faith in a Person, faith in the living, loving Lord, who gave himself for us. Do you believe in Jesus Christ? I do not merely mean, do you believe in his teachings? You must believe in them. But to be saved you must believe in him, “who loved me, and gave himself for me.” There he stands; my faith seems to see him, even now, at the right hand of God, risen from the dead and gone into the glory, and I come and trust him, and take him to be my Saviour. If he be my Saviour, it is his business to save me; I am not to save myself. I put myself into his hands that he may keep me. I bring my foul self to him, that he may cleanse me; my dead self to him, that he may quicken me; my naked self to him, that he may clothe me; my good-for-nothing self to him that he may be precious to me, and that I may be made precious in him. He is to be everything to me. It is not merely what I read about him that I am to believe, but I am to trust himself. Now, beloved, let those of us who have believed in Jesus long ago exercise that faith afresh in this gracious loving way by now living by faith upon the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us.
This faith, you perceive, is a faith in a clear and distinct fact: “the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” To go again over the sacred ground on which we trod just now, the apostle does not say, “I have faith in the Son of God, of whom I hope that he loved me.” He knows it, he is sure of it; and there is no comfort to come out of faith until it learns to speak without stammering, and to say of the Lord Jesus, “who loved me, and gave himself for me.” This either is a fact, or it is not; and if it be a fact, full of every consolation, why should I not know it? Ought you to give sleep to your eyes until you know that he loves you, and that you are his? This can be proved, as I have shown you already. He that believeth in Jesus has the sure token of divine love. If you do trust him, trust him wholly and alone, then he loved you, and gave himself for you; for you the manger at Bethlehem, for you the cross at Calvary, for you the empty sepulchre, for you his pleading before the eternal throne. He loved you, and gave himself for you, and it is for your faith to learn to speak this great truth plainly.
This faith was, next, an appropriating faith: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me” No faith except a personal faith will save the soul; another man’s faith will not save me. I must have a Christ of my own. The love that Christ has to others is pleasant to reflect upon; but it cannot give me peace. It must be love which he has to me if it is to save me: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Somebody says that such a desire as that is selfish. I answer that it is nonsense to talk so. A wife is not thought to be selfish because she rejoices in her husband’s love. A child is not selfish because he is happy in his father’s love. How, dear friends, can I take any joy in the love of Christ to men in general, if I have no sense whatever of his love to me? Of what use could it be to me? In order that I may love my fellow-men, I must first come to know that Christ loves me. How can I have a blessing in the saving of the souls of others if my own soul is not first saved? Let your religion begin at home; and when you make sure of its presence there, then you may sing,—
“Now will I tell to sinners round
What a dear Saviour I have found.”
It would be a poor occupation to go out and tell them of a dear Saviour that you had not found, to tell them of manna that you had never gathered, and of waters of which you had never drunk. No, in order to be truly useful in the Lord’s service, you must first of all know in your own experience the truth of Paul’s words, “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Our text is the language of faith. Unbelief says, “Yes, Christ is very loving;” but if thou hast true faith, thou wilt say, “He loved me.” Unbelief says, “I know that Christ loves his people, but I am afraid that he never would love me.” Such talk as this is mistrustful, and ruinous to the soul; but faith, as soon as ever it opens its mouth, begins to make a personal appropriation of the blessings of the grace of God. What do you do when you come to the communion table? Do you come there to see other people eat bread, and drink wine? Nay, but in communion you each of you eat, and you each of you drink, and that is the very essence of communion. So must each of you take Christ to be yours personally, and say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” This is the faith which is mentioned by the apostle, an appropriating faith.
And as I read the text, it looks to me as if it was a faith full of wonderment. Though the apostle speaks of it as a matter of fact, yet he seems to be much astonished, as he says, “Who loved me, and gave himself for me.” I am sure that, if the Lord will dart into your soul a sense of the love of Christ, it will ravish your heart, it will carry you away with astonishment. You will go home, and say to yourself, “The greatest wonder in the two worlds of heaven and earth is this, that he loved me, and gave himself for me,” and in consequence you will be filled with holy joy and rejoicing. “He loved me, and gave himself for me,” will ring like marriage bells in your heart. Not all the harps of heaven can sound out sweeter music than this text when the Holy Spirit speaks it to our soul, “the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
III. I must not tarry longer on this sweet theme, but must finish with this point, THE FAVOUR ENJOYED. There is a certain power that lies in this fact remembered, and that grows out of this faith confessed. Paul says that he lived by the faith of the Son of God who loved him, and gave himself for him.
Beloved friends, a sense of the love of Christ to you personally will affect your whole life. It will change it at first; but it will keep it changed ever afterwards, and it will go on increasing in its power over you till, when you fully know it, every thought, and every word, and every action will seem to be set in the key of love: “who loved me, and gave himself for me.” That religion which does not affect the whole life is a dead and worthless religion; but this essence of our holy faith, “who loved me, and gave himself for me,” is divinely operative upon the entire man. Alone, or with others in the family, or in the business, whatever his calling is, this will tincture it all with a heavenly sweetness, “who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
And this will be particularly seen in the assuaging of your griefs. Full of pain, you will say to yourself, “Yet he loved me. He has not sent this pain for nothing; he doth not afflict willingly, for he loved me, and gave himself for me.” If you are very poor, you will say to yourself, “He gave the riches to Dives, but Lazarus lay in his bosom. He loved me, and gave himself for me, and that is better than wealth.” And if ever you come to be despised for his sake, and men cast out your name as evil, you will say, “I do not mind it at all, I can even rejoice in it, for he loved me, and gave himself for me; and I may well give up myself, and my reputation, and everything else for him.” Sorrow ceases to be sorrow when once there is in the heart a sweet sense of the infinite love of Christ.
This thought will also help you in your labour. When you have something to do for Jesus that rather tries you, when you feel disappointed and baffled, and the devil tempts you to give it all up, and run away, you will say to yourself, “How can I? He loved me, and gave himself for me.” By Gethsemane and Calvary you will bind yourself to the sternest labour for his dear sake. Nothing is too hot or too heavy for a man whose heart is on fire with divine love. When the torrents of love sweep through the soul, then every obstacle is overcome. I can go as a missionary to the Congo, and joyfully die in that malarious climate, when I know that he loved me, and gave himself for me. I can try to preach in the streets of London, amidst the jeers and the noise of the passers-by, when I know that he loved me, and gave himself for me. You will go cheerfully to the slums, you will visit the lodging-houses, you will teach the ignorant, you will look after the foul and the depraved, when you get this truth impressed on your heart, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
And, beloved friends, this will help you in prayer. When you are at the mercy-seat, tremblingly asking for some great favour, tempted to fear that you will not receive it, very strong will your faith become when you hear the whisper, “who loved me, and gave himself for me.” He that spared not himself, how shall he not give me all things? We ask with great confidence and assurance when we feel the force of this blessed truth.
By-and-by we shall come to die. I am constantly reminded of this fact. During the last two or three weeks we have lost more friends than I remember being taken away in a similar period at almost any other time. We are getting old together, and so there are more dying than there used to be when the young people first joined the church. Well, I shall soon be going, and so will you; but we shall not dread the grave, for Jesus loved us, and gave himself for us. Will he not be with me even in my last moments? Certainly, he will. I shall not dread the terrors of the great judgment day, for “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” Who is he that condemneth, now that Christ hath died, and risen again, and sitteth at the right hand of God to plead for us? The terrors of the world to come, the quivering earth, the burning sky, the falling stars,— all these will cause no perturbation of mind when we are fully assured that he loved us, and gave himself for us.
Thinking of this sublime passage one seems to feel his wings growing; and is ready to take flight to the upper sky, for what even in heaven is there brighter or more blessed than this Jesus, “who loved me, and gave himself for me”? Is not this heaven’s own song, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood”?
O my dear hearers, I stand here, and try to talk to you in my feeble way about these great truths; but do you know them yourselves? If you do, you know more than Solomon ever knew. If you know this love of Christ, you know more than all the Greek philosophers put together. You need not be ashamed in any company; the knowledge of the love of Christ is the most excellent of all the sciences, there is none that can be compared with it. But if you do not know it, I pray my Lord, in his infinite mercy, to disturb and disquiet you, until you do know it. What right have you to rest without faith in Jesus? You have no safety; indeed, you have no hope. Without God, without Christ, you will die without forgiveness or hope of heaven. God bring you to seek his face to-night, ere yet another sun has risen! Seek him. Seek him. Trust in the Saviour’s finished work, and I hope we shall yet see you again as you come forward and say, “Yes, he loved me, and gave himself for me, and here am I to confess it to the glory of his grace.” God grant it, for Jesu’s sake! Amen.