But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your mod holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
But ye, beloved . . .
Ye, in contrast with the heretics and false teachers and their followers, who separate themselves, who live not formally apart from the church, but separate themselves from the truth in their life and walk, who adhere to error, who walk not according to the gospel; who are carnal, not spiritual, who teach and walk in the corruption of their own carnal, covetous, evil nature, Who tempt you and seek to lead you astray by their errors,—ye, what shall ye do? What shall become of you?
How and by what power shall ye be able to stand?
And when the wrath of God is poured out upon them, how shall ye escape? What is your defense, your refuge? What is your safeguard, your protection? How shall ye persevere and be assured of persevering?
Pertinent questions are these for the “beloved” in any age.
But the pertinency of these questions is underscored for us by the fact that more and more our age bears the marks of the last time. False teachers and false Christs abound. Departure from the truth and the precepts of the gospel is increasingly a sign of the times. Temptation through the lusts of this present world is ever more attractive and easy to follow. Increasingly the faithful are tempted, assaulted, taunted, troubled. More frequently it becomes necessary for the “beloved” to stand alone and to be willing to become outcasts even in their own religious and ecclesiastical circles. And the struggle to maintain and adhere to the truth strictly in confession and walk becomes ever more difficult.
How, then, shall we ever endure?
There is but one power upon which to depend, one power that will surely keep us, guard us, protect us, bring us safely through it all. And of that power the text speaks: the love of God!
Would you persevere and be assured of persevering even unto the end? Here is the answer: “Ye, beloved, . . . keep yourselves in the love of God!”
In the sphere of that love we must keep ourselves, so that there is harmony and contact between that love of God and our hearts and lives, so that we have that love of God in our hearts, so that we know that love, are assured of that love, trust that love, depend on that love, find our strength in that love. There, where that love is revealed and where it operates, we must be, so that we may experience its mighty power, so that our hearts and lives may vibrate and throb with the pulsations of that mighty love. In the sphere of that love we must abide, so that we may enjoy it as our only place of safety, our shelter, our stronghold, in trouble’s day, so that we may feel safe and secure when the mighty power of that love enfolds us, protects us, brings us unscathed and unharmed through the fierce attacks of the godless enemy.
And what is the sphere of that love? It is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, as sealed by the resurrection on the third day. There God gave His only begotten Son. And there He revealed His love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . .” Hence, the sphere of that love is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the sphere of the truth of the gospel. Never; therefore, can you keep yourselves in the love of God apart from the means of grace, the preaching of the Word and the sacraments. For through them only can and do we know the love of God.
You understand, of course, that the apostle is not speaking here of our love to God, but of God’s love to us. To be sure, love is always of God. Even our love to Him is of God. It is but the result, the reflection of, and the response to His love shed abroad in our hearts. The distinction between the two is that in the one case the love of God is viewed from the aspect of its action and operation toward and upon and in us from God; in the other case, it is viewed from the aspect of its operation from us, by grace, to God-ward. But fundamentally, love is always of God. For God is love! Moreover, the two,—our love to God and God’s love to us—always go hand in hand. God’s love always kindles the response of our love to Him. Hence, if we keep ourselves in the one, we also keep ourselves in love to Him.
Nevertheless, the text speaks of Gods love to usward, not of our love to God-ward. The latter could never be our safe shelter, our refuge from the adversary. For our love to God is only in principle. And if then that love must be the ground and the guarantee of our assurance, we can immediately think of ten thousand reasons to lack confidence. For our sins rise up against us, prevailing day by day. And every one of those sins is a strong testimony that as far as the love of God is concerned we fail, fail miserably! Every one of those sins reminds us that we, if left to ourselves, would never persevere! Only the love wherewith God loves us can ever serve as our sure protection, our safe refuge!
And what a refuge!
Sovereign, eternal, unchangeable, independent, all-enduring, unswervingly faithful, victorious is that love!
For love is of God! God loves Himself!
And love in God is the spiritual bond that unites in the sphere of perfection, the bond of perfectness. Love implies the perfect subject cleaving to, breathing after, delighting in, seeking, the perfect object. Such love is eternally in and of God Triune Himself. The Father loves the Son in the Spirit. The Son loves the Father in the Spirit. And the Spirit loves the Father and the Son in Himself.
And the love wherewith God loves us, His people, is that same divine love revealed!
It is the bond which unites God and His people, His beloved elect, in Christ Jesus, in the sphere of perfection. The love wherewith God loves us means that God conceives and knows and beholds His people from eternity in Christ Jesus, the Son of His love, as a perfect people, the perfect object. And beholding them as the perfect object of His divine love, He is attracted to them, delights in them, breathes after them, seeks them, unites them with Himself, clasps them to His divine Father-heart in perfect fellowship!
If we understand this, we can understand why that love is so indispensable for God’s people in the midst of their enemies.
For we must remember that the viewpoint of our text is that of this present time. And in this present time we are not yet that perfect object of God’s love. We are perfect only in principle, only according to the small beginning of the new life. And for the rest, we are still sinful, still in the midst of our enemies, still in temptation and subject to temptation, unable to stand of ourselves, not only in danger of falling, but such that we certainly would fall away completely, would be no better than all the wicked apostates who go to their doom under the wrath of God,—were it not for that altogether divine, that sovereign, independent, unchangeable, faithful, all-enduring, all-victorious power of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
For that love of God always operates to, save us.
The goal of that love is the eternal life which the text mentions. And eternal life is the life that is now in our Lord Jesus Christ in glory. It is the life that is ours in principle by regeneration. It is the life that implies perfect covenant fellowship with God, the life that means that we are forever united with Him in the full bliss of the bond of perfectness, without any death and without any possibility of death, when we shall see Him face to face, and know even as we are known! Eternal life means that we shall be forever even as God has conceived of us and known us and beheld us in Christ Jesus as His perfect people from all eternity. It means that we shall be perfectly and completely conformed to the image of His Son, the Son of His love!
And to realize that image of His people, His Zion, that God has engraved in the palms of His divine hands from eternity,—to realize that image God’s love always operates.
Moreover, because love is of God, and is sovereign, unchangeably faithful, not dependent on you and me, continuing in its divine operation faithful in spite of all our unfaithfulness and unworthiness, therefore the saving operation of that love is absolutely certain. It can never fail! The goal of eternal life shall certainly be reached! And it shall be reached by all the elect!
What is our hope, our refuge, our shelter in the time of storm?
Oh, the length and the breadth and the depth and the height of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! Nothing shall ever separate us from that love. Not tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword, nor death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature . . .
Keep yourselves in that love, beloved.
Yes, it is possible—from our point of view, from the viewpoint of our weakness and our sinful inclination to turn away from God—not to remain steadfast in that love. And it is also possible, because there are powers that are exactly seeking to separate us from that love, to lure us out of its safe refuge. Not only possible is it; but if left to ourselves, we most certainly would not remain steadfast. Hence, the admonition is necessary.
We must understand that to leave the sphere of that love would be just exactly fatal for us as children of God. In the shelter of that love is our only security! And therefore it is of the utmost importance to watch carefully, to guard, to exert ourselves spiritually to remain in that love, to live by that love and from that love, to depend upon that love, to be strong in it, to realize that only in that love of God are we strong, and that only that love of God can and will bring us into eternal life.
No, we must have nothing—the apostle must have nothing—of the error of the Pelagians that all Arminianism brings up again out of hell! It is not at all as though the operation of that love depends on ourcontinuing in God’s love. The love of God is and always remains first. Without its power we could not keep ourselves in His love. It is the “beloved,” those who are principally in the love of God, who are admonished to keep themselves in it. Besides, the immediate context reminds us that there is One “who is able to keep us from falling.” And so all Scripture teaches us that the love of God is first, also in the assurance of the Christian: “I am persuaded that nothing can separate me from the love of God . . .”
But the love of God does not operate merely upon us, but in us and through us, as conscious, rational, moral beings. It operates in such a way that we seek, enjoy, depend on that love, and that too, just exactly in the awareness of its sovereignty, its abiding faithfulness, its victorious power, its all-enduring character. And if, as far as our conscious spiritual life is concerned, we abandon the Rock of that love (even though that love never lets us go completely, but always draws us again to its safe shelter), then we become for the moment most wretched and miserable, like a ship that has lost its anchor, drifting aimlessly, helplessly, tossed to and fro by the storms of the enemy’s assaults.
Hence, keep yourselves in the love of God, beloved!
Trust that love! Never forsake it!
And there are two elements that are of the utmost spiritual importance if we are to keep ourselves in that love.
The first is: build yourselves up on your most holy faith!
Your “most holy faith” is your faith as the active principle of all holiness, all sanctification, in your walk and life. It is your faith from the viewpoint of the fact that it is the living spiritual bond that unites you to Christ and His holiness. Through faith as our union with Christ, we are principally “most holy,” separate from all sin and darkness, and consecrated to the living God and His service. Through faith we are principally perfect. And love is the bond of perfectness, remember.
Hence, build yourselves up on that most holy faith. The figure is that of a building and its foundation. The building is you in all your life, in all your walk and conversation. The foundation is your “most holy faith.” And as the foundation determines and characterizes and limits and shapes the building constructed upon it, so let that most holy faith characterize and shape and limit and determine your thinking and willing, your words and your deeds, your striving and aspirations, all of your life.
For because love is the bond of perfectness, it is spiritually impossible to keep yourselves in the love of God and willfully to depart from the way of perfectness, of holiness. That is possible only in the way of sanctification.
And the second is this: pray in the Holy Spirit!
Do you pray, beloved? Fray, not just any carnal prayer, but pray in the Spirit? Pray prayers that are motivated by the Spirit, and prayers that are objectively in harmony with the Spirit and His holiness? Pray in the sense of your own incapability and your utter dependence upon the grace of the Spirit, the Author of faith and holiness? Pray for faith, for holiness, for grace to build up yourselves on your most holy faith?
Such prayer is necessary for Christians!
For without it and its resultant blessings of grace they cannot go from strength to strength in Zion.
Yes, and in this all, let your Christian hope spur you on!
Of this the text speaks when it speaks of “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ (the love of God in Christ revealed to us in our misery) unto eternal life.” For that mercy and its final goal of eternal life we look, do we not? We expect it; we are sure of it; we long for it.
And that hope, on the one hand, is the power of sanctification. According as we look for that final mercy, we also will and do build ourselves up on our most holy faith, and thus keep ourselves in the love of God. And, on the other hand, the love of God is through faith the ground of our hope. According as we keep ourselves in the love of God, through building ourselves up on our most holy faith, we experience that hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
Thus we hope . . .
And we keep ourselves in His love . . .
Until at last we reach the Father’s everlasting tabernacle, there perfectly to taste all the blessings of His love.
“To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”