“God is love.” When properly understood, these words of the apostle John are of great comfort to the people of God. For that God is love means that God is the God of our salvation. John tells us, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9). God is love in and of Himself. His very essence is love. But that great love He has also shown to us. God manifested His love to us by sending Christ to die for us in order that we might have eternal life. It is in His love that God saves us through Christ. In fact, we can even say that it is the love of God that saves us—saves us just as much as does the grace of God. For God’s sovereign love is the source and cause of all that belongs to our salvation. Without that love, there could be no salvation.
How sad, therefore, that this love of God is so trampled under foot today. For man, in his quest to make himself King, has so gutted the true meaning of God’s love that he has made it nothing more than a weak, impotent emotion that can not even accomplish what it wishes. For they tell us that God loves everyone. We hear this, not only from those who have historically been Arminian, but even from many who call themselves Reformed. To say that God does not love everyone is to incur the wrath of just about everyone.
But to say that God loves all is to make the love of God ineffectual and vain. For then God’s love is so weak that it can not even save its objects. God loves all, but not all are saved. In fact, some who are loved by God are even now in the everlasting torment of hell. What kind of love is that? How can that possibly be the love of God? If I love my son, I do all in my power to keep him from harm and danger. Surely if the Sovereign God loves someone, He not only wills to save him, but He is able to and He does save him. The love of God is a sovereign love that always accomplishes what it wants, even over against the rebellious objections of wicked men. If God loves you, then God saves you.
For the Scriptures teach us that there is only one love of God and that love is always a saving, redemptive love. God saves His people both in the old dispensation and in the new, always because He loves us. “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt’! (Deut. 7:7, 8). The sovereign cause of Israel’s redemption was God’s love for them. In Hosea 11:1 we find that same connection between love and redemption. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt.” God loved His son, and because of that love, He called him out of the bondage of Egypt. In fact, the love of God for His people is so strong that He saves us even at the expense of others. He says, “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life” (Isaiah 43:4). God’s love for us is of such a nature that it will destroy others (Egypt, Ethiopia, Seba— Isaiah 43:3) in order that it might deliver us. For God’s love does not merely wish for our salvation; it actually accomplishes our salvation.
Thus we can go all the way back to our eternal election and find behind that blessed decree of God, His everlasting love for us. We were chosen to salvation because God loved us. If we read Ephesians 1:5 the way many would have us, then we have there a direct statement to that effect. We read, “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” God predestinated us unto the adoption of children in the sphere of His great love for us. Election is the choice of love. The same idea is found in Romans 8:29: “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. . . .” Here the word “foreknow” has in it the idea of love (see Amos 3:2). Those whom God foreknew in love He also predestinated unto salvation in Christ. God’s love always wants our salvation and therefore it determines to bring us to that salvation.
God’s love, however, does much more than simply will our salvation. That love sees to it that we are actually saved. In fact the apostle Paul makes it clear that God’s love for us is the cause of our regeneration. He says, “But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4, 5). We by nature are dead in sin. We have no spiritual life whatsoever. But God quickens us; He makes us alive. And He does that, according to the apostle, on account of His great love with which He loved us. Just as surely as we are chosen in the sphere of God’s love, so too that love is the cause of our spiritual birth into the kingdom and family of God. The apostle John confirms this by telling us that we are sons of God on account of God’s love. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God” (I John 3:1). If you want to see the kind of love with which God loves us, then consider the fact that it is God’s love that makes us His sons. We who by nature are the children of wrath, are called the sons of God because God loves us and out of that love makes us His children.
That is a very powerful and wonderful love—not something weak and ineffectual; always wishing but never able to bring it to pass. It is a sovereign love that saves its objects. It is the cause of all our salvation from election to our final glorification. In the words of the apostle, “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). The God Who chose us and regenerated us continues to work within us until finally He has brought us to our eternal glory. Then we shall be more than conquerors in a most blessed and perfect way. And all because He loved us. No wonder we read in II Thessalonians 2:16, 17, “Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts. . . .” For the love of God, the sovereign saving love of God, is surely a very comforting love and a love that gives us good hope.
The sovereign character of God’s love is demonstrated even more when we consider the relationship of that to Christ and the cross. After all, if love is the sovereign cause of our salvation then it must be very closely connected to Christ and His death. And indeed it is. For in the first place, the Scriptures make it clear that God loves us only and always in Christ. Thus we read, “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 1:14). God loves us always because we are united to Christ. He does not love us as we are according to the flesh. For we are sinners. But He loves us as those who, from all eternity, belong to Christ. He even loves us with. the very same love with which He loves Christ. Jesus Himself teaches that in John 17: “. . . and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me. . . . And I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23, 26). The love with which God loves us is no less than the very love He showers upon His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. For we are one with Christ. We are His body. We partake of all His blessings, including God’s love. There can be no love of God for anyone outside of Christ. Such a thing is utterly impossible. For love is the bond of perfectness. Unless God sees you, from all eternity, as righteous in Christ He has no love for you.
That idea is confirmed by the fact that the love of God can be found only at the cross. Even the everlasting love of God that elected us unto salvation, is a love that is founded upon the cross. For it is at the cross that Christ shed His blood for the remission of our sins. It is only in the cross that we are lovable. Thus we often find the idea of love and the cross together in the Scriptures. “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The cross is the grand display of God’s great love for us. It tells us more about the love of God than does anything else. Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And that is exactly what God did. In Christ He laid down His life for us. That is the greatest love. There is no love anywhere that can match what God has done for us. John says, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (John 4:10).
All this can only mean that God’s love is a sovereign love that is limited to God’s elect people only. For the scope of God’s love can be no greater than the scope of the cross. If the cross is the great display of God’s love, then only those who are comprehended in the death of Christ have anything of the love of God. The Scriptures teach us that Christ died only for His people (Eph. 5:25, John 10:11). Therefore we must conclude that God loves only His people. All others have no part in the cross and the righteousness of Jesus Christ and therefore have nothing of God’s love. Thus we read, “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul hateth” (Ps. 11:5).
No, God’s love is not weak. It is not impotent. It does not wish for what it can not have. It is sovereign, all-powerful, and therefore particular. When God loves a man, He does not leave him in hell. But He blesses him with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. He redeems him from destruction. For God’s love sent forth His only begotten Son to die on the cross that we might have life. And that purpose of God’s love is surely accomplished. We can make the same confident confession as the apostle when he declares, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).