Chapter 2: The Sword power and the Sixth Commandment (cont’d)

And this position of the Reformed confessions is certainly based on the Word of God. Scripture certainly does not support the position that war as such is always and necessarily sin. Mark you well, we do not take up a defense for the wars of the world. It certainly is not our position that the wars of the world are always justified, that they are never sinful. But it certainly cannot be maintained in the light of the Word of God that war as such is always to be condemned. That the sword is given to the magistrate certainly implies that it has received from God the power to kill. And as the Reformed confessions have it, this also implies that the magistrate has authority from God to wage a just war. Of David it is said that he waged the wars of Jehovah. And, the same is true of all the wars that were waged by the pious kings of Israel against the enemies of the people of God. Nor is it true that the New Testament in this respect produces a different sound from that of the Old Testament. When the soldiers came to John the Baptist with the question, “What shall we do?” he does not enjoin them to quit the military service, as if it were necessarily a sinful and ungodly occupation, put he says to them: “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” It was a centurion, an officer in the Roman army, of whom the Lord Jesus testified that He had not seen so great a faith as was manifest in this man even in Israel. And also Cornelius, mentioned in Acts 10, was a centurion of the band called the Italian band. And of him the Scriptures testify that he was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.” And he became one of the first fruits of the kingdom of heaven from among the heathen. The fear of God, therefore, is not necessarily in conflict with military service. And war as such is not to be condemned. 

This, however, raises another question. If the magistrate may wage war; and if war as such, in the light of Scripture, cannot be condemned; and yet it be also true that wars are by no means always just, on what basis and when may the believer in the world participate in war and have no objection to military service? May we take the position of another class of conscientious objectors, who refuse to be drafted and to take part in any war as long as they individually cannot see the justice of a certain war? It ought to be s plain that on the basis of such a negative position no Christian can ever consent to be drafted for military service. The average individual believer cannot possibly be expected to be so thoroughly informed about the causes of modern wars that he is able to pass sentence on the justice of them. Hence, he must necessarily always be a conscientious objector. 

Of course, you understand that the basis upon which this conscientious objector defends his position is that every individual citizen is responsible for any act he performs in obedience to the authority of the government, even though that authority be exercised strictly in its own proper domain, such as in the declaration of war. Hence, before he obeys, he is under obligation to determine whether a given act of the government is morally justified or not. And upon the result of this individual determination it must depend whether any citizen is in duty bound to obey the government or to refuse obedience. Of course, if one adopts the principle from which this conscientious objector proceeds, you will have to grant that in this last stand he is right. In any moral question it is certainly wrong to reason thus: I am not certain whether it is right; therefore I will do it. If war is a matter of individual responsibility, I must be certain of the justice of a given war before I fight. He that doubts if he eats is damned because he does not eat out of faith. Much more so, if one fights if he doubts, if it be true that war is killing people,—and, we may add, innocent people as far as the war is concerned, whether they fight on the just or on the unjust side of the war, and whether they be soldiers or civilians,—and if every individual citizen is personally responsible for this killing of people, then certainly no one may engage in warfare as long as he is uncertain whether the cause for which he is fighting is a just one. No one can kill people unless he is certain that it is the will of God. And if the individual Christian is responsible for his killing of people in war, he must be certain that the war is just. 

This is really the stand that was taken by the Christian Reformed Churches in 1939. At that time a “Testimony” was adopted, from which we quote the following paragraph: “The only conscientious objecter to military service whose claim the church cannot repudiate is he, who recognizing his duty to obey his government and to defend this country in response to his call to arms, has intelligent and adequate grounds to be convinced that the given war to which he is summoned is an unjust war. When he is absolutely certain in the light of the principles of the Word of God that his country is fighting for a wrong cause, he cannot morally justify his participation in the given war. War is killing people. And for, anyone to engage in such killing of fellowmen when he is convinced in his heart that the cause for which he is fighting is an unjust one, this procedure cannot be justified before the tribunal of God and His Word. The only course open to such a person is to resort to passive resistance and to refuse to bear arms in that given war.” 

This, of course, is based upon identically the same principle as the one that motivated the type of conscientious objector referred to above. Both judge of the justness of a given war. Both act upon this individual judgment, not from the principle of obedience to the government. Both say to the government: “I will obey if I can see that your cause is not unjust, or at least that I cannot see that it is unjust.” 

These both implicitly deny that the government only has the authority and power to wield the sword. Both proceed from the supposition that the individual citizen is responsible for the way in which the government wields the sword. The only difference is that the one is uncertain. And therefore, according to the Synod of the Chr. Ref. Church, he must fight. The other is certain, and therefore he must not fight. With this we cannot possibly agree. It is the principle of individualism, and therefore, really the principle of revolution.

Notice that the Synod speaks of “intelligent and adequate grounds to be convinced that the given war to which he is summoned is an unjust war.” Intelligent and adequate, we ask, according to what standard? No doubt the Synod will say: according to the standard of the Word of God. But the question remains, nevertheless: who then is to be the judge to determine whether these grounds are intelligent and adequate and according to the standard of Scripture? Certainly, not the church: for she is not the final judge in the matter, But who then? The government? To be sure, if the “Testimony” of the Chr. Ref. Church is also intended as a basis upon which the government must act and excuse certain conscientious objectors, it is she that must judge of these grounds and determine whether they are intelligent and adequate. But this is out of the question, for the government declared the given war, and if she would decide that the grounds of these conscientious objectors were intelligent and adequate to convince anyone that the war is unjust, she would have to retract the very declaration of war. Besides, if the government should decide that the grounds were not intelligent and adequate, such a decision would riot change the mind of the conscientious objector himself. He would still be certain that the given war is unjust. In the last analysis, therefore, it must-be the conscientious objector himself that determines the intelligence and adequacy of his own grounds for considering the given war unjust. 

This leaves it to the decision of the individual citizen whether or not in its own proper domain the magistrate shall wield the sword and wage war. 

On this basis, it stands to reason, it will be quite impossible for the government to wage war. For many will be the conscientious objectors that have intelligent and adequate reasons in the light of Scripture to refuse to participate in a given war. Some, indeed, have intelligent and adequate objections against any war; and they also appeal to Scripture for their stand. If you grant the right of citizens to determine whether a given war is just, why deny them the right to take the stand that all war is sinful, and that therefore no Christian can participate in any war. Others, perhaps, will consider a war of self-defense the sole war that is justifiable. Still others may take the stand that it is our solemn duty to fight on the side of democracy and against totalitarianism and communism. Besides, what is really a just war? How often is justice wholly with the one side of the conflicting nations, and injustice with the other? And suppose that one reaches the certain conclusion that there is at least also unjustness on the side of the government? Must he obey the summons to fight? It is evident that if we give the right to the individual citizens to judge whether a war is just and reasonable, the government will always be handicapped and powerless to wage war. 

On the basis of the Word of God and our Reformed confessions, there is but one position possible with regard to the Christian’s calling when the government summons him to military service. 

As long as the government wields the sword given her by God within her own domain, that is, the civil state, whether it be within its own borders and with respect to its own citizens, or over against other governments and states, she alone has authority. And the citizens must obey unconditionally. However, as soon as the civil government would attempt to exercise her authority in the domain of the church and would turn her God-given sword against Christ and His cause, the government would move in a sphere in which she has no authority whatsoever, and therefore is no longer government, but mere man. And the principle would have to be applied that we must, obey God rather than men. 

This implies that the individual Christian is not morally responsible for the justness or unjustness of the war that is declared by the government. Nor ii he responsible for any act which he performs in strict obedience to the government as such when he is called to the colors and summoned to military service.

The hangman is not responsible when, in obedience to the proper magistrates, he executes the sentence upon the man that is legally condemned to death. The sentence may be a mistake, or it may be grossly unjust. The executioner may be absolutely convinced in his own mind that the condemned man is innocent. But he does not act, or refuse to act, on the ground of his own individual conviction, but merely in obedience to the proper and responsible authorities. 

The same relation holds when the citizen is called to arms. 

God will have every soul in subjection unto the powers that be. We may not resist. The magistrates bear the sword in the name of God. That sword symbolizes the authority to punish evildoers within her own borders, but it certainly also implies the power to declare and to wage war. And to no other that sword is ever given. The government only has the right to determine whether it shall be war or peace. She only is responsible for the way in which she makes use of that God-given authority. The individual citizens cannot possibly be responsible, or even co-responsible, with the government for the latters handling of the sword. And therefore, the duty of the citizen is to obey for conscience’ sake. One may have his doubts as to the justness of a given war. One may be convinced that a given war is unjust on the part of the government that summons him. One may, to be sure, even lodge his protest, with the grounds upon which he considers the war unjust, with his government. But obey he must, as long as it concerns the authority of the magistrates, exercised in the domain of the civil state or commonwealth. 

If, however, the same government to which we are in subjection as long as she uses her sword power in her own domain, should attempt to wield that sword in a sphere outside of the civil commonwealth,—a domain over which she was never set in authority by God,—we must refuse to acknowledge that authority. In such cases it is not the question whether we shall be obedient to the government or to God, but whether we shall obey God or man. 

Thus the apostles answer the council when the latter forbid them to preach in the name of Jesus. To preach the gospel belongs to the Christ-given calling and authority of the church. The authority of the government does not extend into this domain. Hence, when the Jewish council usurped this power over against the apostles, the latter, through Peter, reminded them that they transgressed the boundaries of their authority by saying that they must obey God rather than men. 

This, therefore, is the proper stand in the light of Scripture and the confessions. 

Capital punishment is certainly demanded in Scripture as the only proper punishment for the murderer. And war, although not always just, in fact, although frequently unjust, cannot be condemned in the light of Scripture. Nor can refusal on the part of the citizen to obey the summons of the government when it calls him to the battle or to engage in any military service be sustained in the light of the Word of God. We do not deny that the church, as well as the individual Christian, has a moral calling with regard to any war. But we do deny that the individual soldier is responsible for the justness of a given war. And the Christian must always obey the summons of his government to arms. 

Chapter 3: Love of the Neighbor’s Person 

This, namely, that we love the neighbor’s person as we love our own person for God’s sake, is the positive idea of the sixth commandment. 

This the Heidelberg Catechism explains in the 107th question as follows: “But is it enough that we do not kill any man in the manner mentioned above? No: for when God forbids envy, hatred, and anger, he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; to show patience, peace, meekness, mercy, and all kindness, towards him, and prevent his hurt as much as in us lies; and that we do good, even to our enemies.”

Here, however, there arise several questions. The first and principal one of these is, no doubt: what in the light of Scripture, is love? In close connection with this principal question is this other one: is love of the neighbor the same as love of the brethren? In other words, can we love all men in the same sense? Again, in close connection with the former question is this further one: how can we possibly love our enemies? Suppose that these enemies also be enemies of God: how then is it possible to love them as our neighbor, even as we love ourselves, for God’s sake? 

First of all, then, we must discuss the question: what is love? 

When we turn to the Word of God for instruction with respect to the meaning of the word love, we discover, first of all, that in the Old Testament there are especially two words used to express the idea of love, though with different shades of meaning. The first word we have in mind has the root meaning of “to join, to fasten.” It is also used intransitively, so that it means “to adhere, to stick together.” With respect to love, therefore, it emphasizes the idea of a bond of fellowship. It also expresses the notion of delight. The latter idea as an element in love is related to the first, probably as the cause to the effect. One delights in another, and the result is that he longs for the object of his delight, seeks it, and-having found it, he cleaves to it. According to this word, then, love is that bond of fellowship between two persons that have delight in each other. Thus the word is used in Deut. 7:7 of the love of God: “The Lord did not set his love upon you (that is, delight in you, seek you, and cleave to you), nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people: for ye were the fewest of all people.” And also in Ps. 91:14 the same word is used: “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him.” The second word employed in the Old Testament to express the idea of love rather denotes the living action of love than the essence of it as a bond of fellowship. It has the root meaning “to breath after,” and thus, “to long for and strongly desire.” It is the word that is used in Deut. 6:4: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy mind and with all thy soul and with all thy strength.” God, as the highest good, therefore, must be the chief and only object of our desire. It is the language of love when Asaph sings in Ps. 73:25: “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” And David sings in Ps. 42:13: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” The word is also used to express the love of God for His people, as in Deut. 4:37: “And because he loved thy fathers, therefore, he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight, with his mighty power out of Egypt.” And also inIsaiah 63:9: “In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them and carried them all the days of old.” If we combine the various elements expressed by these terms, we may say that love is a spiritual bond of fellowship in which two or more parties adhere to one another, a bond which is the result of the delight these parties have in one another, which causes them to desire and to seek one another.

Also in the New Testament there occur two words, the one expressing a tender affection, a fondness, which is rather emotional than volitional; the other, however, denoting a love that is rooted in the will and is thoroughly spiritual and ethical. It is well-known how both words are characteristically employed inJohn 21:15-17, which narrates the restoration of Peter after he had denied the Lord. The Lord inquires of His sorrowful disciple whether he loves Him, twice using the stronger word, that expresses love proper, the last time employing the weaker word, that denotes a tender affection and no more. The apostle, however, dares not use the stronger word, conscious as he is of his recent manifestation of self-confidence and miserable weakness. 

In Col. 3:14 we read: “Above all put on love, which is the bond of perfectness.” It would probably be over-emphasizing the real value of this text if we should say that here we have a Biblical definition of love. Yet it approaches the nature of a definition very nearly. Love is the bond of perfectness. By this phrase, “bond of perfectness,” we must understand a bond or union that is characterized by perfection in the ethical sense of the word, ethical goodness, such as truth, righteousness, holiness, justice, faithfulness, and the like. Love, then, is a bond that can exist and be maintained only in the sphere of ethical or moral perfection. There is no love in darkness. And they that love darkness do not love one another in the positive sense of the word. If love, as we gathered, is the union or bond that is caused by the delight of one person in the other, by the longing of the one for the other, by the seeking of the other by him that loves, then we now learn that the reason and object of this delight is ethical perfection. He that loves in the true sense of the word delights in perfection, in ethical goodness, in truth and righteousness, in the light. Hence, love requires a perfect subject and a perfect object. Both he that loves and he that is loved must be perfect. Since love is the bond of perfectness, it is the bond that only unites perfect parties. Love, therefore, is preeminently an ethical virtue. It is an attribute and act of the will. It requires a person to love. And it requires a person or an ethical quality to be the object of love. Hence, we must not use the word for animals and things. It is true that in Scripture the word is employed as referring to the very opposite of ethical perfection, as when it is said that men love darkness rather than light, John 3:19, and that they love the praise of men more than the praise of God, John 12:43. However, this merely emphasizes the very perversion of love in the natural man. Even as it is not love, but adultery, when a husband is unfaithful to his wedded wife and is said to love another woman. Love is the bond of perfectness, that unites the ethically perfect as such. For that reason it implies a choice of the will, and is the very antithesis of hatred. A man cannot serve two masters. He will love the one and hate the other. Matt. 6:24. God has loved Jacob, but Esau hath He hated. Rom. 9:13. Love is also the fulfillment of the law. Rom. 13:10. And the love of God is the first and great commandment, while the love of the neighbor is like unto it. And the ethically perfect character of love constitutes the basic note of that well-known eulogy of love which we find in I Corinthians 13. Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but it rejoiceth in the truth. I Cor. 13:6

If we bear this thoroughly ethical character of love in mind, we are not surprised to read in Scripture that God is love, I John 4:8; and that love is always of God, that is, wherever you may find true love, even among men, it has its origin in God, I John 4:7; and that God is the God of love, II Cor. 13:11; for God is pure perfection. His very being is the bond of perfectness. God is a light, and there is no darkness in Him at all. He is righteousness, He is truth, He is knowledge and wisdom, He is purity and holiness, He is goodness, the highest good, and the overflowing fountain of all good. Hence, God loves Himself. All the love and delight of His perfect nature is directed to His own infinite perfections. Also in this respect God is perfectly self-sufficient. He has no need of men’s hands to be served. He needs not man’s heart to be loved. He is in no need of any creature outside of Himself in order to love. For God is triune, one in being and three in persons. He knows Himself as Father through the Son and in the Spirit. Constantly, eternally, He beholds His own perfections and delight in them. And the three persons of the holy Trinity are united in the bond of divinely, infinitely perfect love. Hence, we read that the Father loves the Son. John 3:35. And Christ would have the world know that He loves the Father. John 14:31

Hence, on the basis of Scripture, we may mention the following elements as essential to love. In the first place, it is a bond of fellowship that unites, draws, and fastens. In the second place, it is ethical in nature, and therefore requires an ethical subject and an ethical object. Love requires an ethically perfect subject and an ethically perfect object: both he that loves and he that is loved must be perfect. If in Scripture we are admonished to love our enemies, to love them that persecute us, the meaning is not, therefore, that we are expected to have fellowship with them. The bond of perfectness in such a case cannot possibly exist. The meaning therefore is that we shall bestow acts of love on them, such acts as would tend to draw them into the sphere of perfection. To this we will return later. And finally, love, as an act of the perfect subject towards the perfect object, is delight in perfection, and therefore the longing for and the seeking of the object, in order to cling to him when found. In other words, love is that spiritual bond of perfect fellowship that subsists between persons that are ethically perfect and dwell in the light, and that because of their perfection mutually delight in one another, long for one another, seek one another, and cling to one another. As such God is love, the God of love; and all love is of God. In Him love is absolute and self-sufficient. He is its subject, the one that loves with an infinitely perfect love from eternity to eternity. And He is its object, the one that is loved, God, being the implication of all ethical perfection, has an infinitely perfect delight in Himself, seeks Himself, and eternally finds Himself, has fellowship with Himself, lives the life of perfect love, of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

God, therefore, is not in need of any creature to have an object of love, nor to be the object of love. For He is sufficient in Himself. Yet, it pleased God to reveal His love in and to a people whom He has chosen from all eternity. For the Scriptures speak of “the beloved according to the election.” Rom. 11:28. It teaches us to rejoice that hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God hath been shed abroad ii our hearts, something which undoubtedly means that we have been made to possess and experience the love of God to us. Rom. 5:5. The apostle John frequently speaks of this love, particularly in his first general epistle. He calls upon us to admire the wonder of that amazing love, w&en he writes: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” I John 3:1. The same apostle points to the real nature of love, when he explains: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us,” meaning that such is the very character and operation of love that it proceeds from God alone. Not from us to Him, neither mutually from Him to us and from us to Him, but from Him it proceeds to us; and our love is but a response to His love, the return of God’s own love through our hearts to Him. I John 4:10. He reminds us that God so loved us that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. I John 4:10, 11. God does not only love himself, but He also extends the sphere of His love outside of His own being and triune life so as to include also us, His people according to the election of grace. 

But there is more. Not only do the Scriptures speak of this love of God to us; they also emphatically speak of the love of us to God. Love may be one-sided, purely divine in nature and origin and manner of operation. The effect of this operation and manifestation of the love of God is surely that we also love God, so that there is a bond of fellowship between Him and His people. For indeed, He loved us first, and all love is out of Him. But we also love Him, because He loved us first. I John 4:19. In fact, that we love God is the heart of the law. That we love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength is the first and great commandment. This love of God, both as it is manifested as God’s love to us and as it is our response to the love of God, is a love of God in Christ. For that reason the Word of God teaches us to shout with victorious joy that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Rom. 8:35. But immediately after, it reminds us that this love of Christ is the same as the love of God, when the same chapter of the epistle to the Romans concludes that no power in heaven or on earth shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom. 8:39. And concerning our love to God the Lord tells His disciples: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”John 14:15. And again, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.” The reason is that the Word which He speaks is not His own, but the Father’s which sent Him. John 14:23, 24

And lastly, Scripture speaks not only of God’s love to us, and of our love to God. But it also teaches us that by the power of this love of God in our hearts we also love one another: “He that loveth God loveth his brother also.” I John 4:21. And again: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.” John 13:23. For “he that loveth his brother dwelleth in the light.” I John 2:10. And in this the children of God and the children of the devil are distinctly manifest, that the child of God loves his brother, and he that loveth not his brother is not of God: “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” By this even we know that we have passed from death into life, that we love the brethren. For he that loveth not his brother abideth in death. I John 3:10, 11, 14. Everyone, then, who loveth is born of God. I John 4:7. If a man say, I love God, and hate his brother, he is a liar, “for this is the commandment which we have from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” I John 4:20, 21

Now the question arises: if love is the bond of perfectness, how is it ever possible that God should love us, who are by nature dead in trespasses and sins? Secondly, again if love is the bond of perfectness, how come that we ever love God, we who are by nature enemies of God? Thirdly, if love can never exist in the sphere of darkness, but only in the light, how can we possibly love one another? And in the fourth place, if love is the bond of perfectness, aid therefore cannot possibly exist as fellowship between the godly and the ungodly, in what sense of the word do the children of God love their neighbors in general, and even love their enemies, who are and manifest themselves at the same time as enemies of God? 

The first question is and can be answered only by the fact of God’s eternal election. God from everlasting conceived of His people as perfect before Him in Christ Jesus our Lord, and as such He loves them with an everlasting love: “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore, with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” Jer. 31:3. Therefore, “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.” Ps. 103:17. Jacob hath he loved from eternity, for this, was said unto Rebecca before the children were born, neither had done good or evil, that the purpose of God according to the election might stand. Rom. 9:11-13. Moreover, “whom he did foreknow (that is, with a divine, causal, and eternal knowledge of love) he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,” He also called, justified, and glorified. Rom. 8:29, 30. For He blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.” Eph. 1:3, 4. It is in love that He predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will. Eph. 1:5. We must remember that God is immutable, and immutable also is His love. God does not fall in love; He loves eternally. And this does not merely apply to His divine self-love, but also to His love to His people in Christ Jesus. 

What does this imply? 

First of all, that eternally God willed to reveal Himself in that which we might, humanly speaking, call the very highest of His divine being and life, His love. In the second place, that therefore from all eternity He divinely and sovereignly knew, that is, conceived and willed a people that could be the object of His delight and love and that would taste and acknowledge His love and have their delight in Him. In the third place, that therefore He conceived of this people in His eternal counsel as perfect, even as He is perfect: for love is the bond of perfectness, and God cannot love that which is imperfect, sinful, and corrupt. In the fourth place, that He eternally knew His people, not merely as perfect, but as perfected through the deep way of sin and grace. For in order that His love might be manifested all the more gloriously, and they might taste the blessedness of that love more fully and deeply, God determined in His eternal counsel that His people should reach the highest perfection in the way of sin and by the power of grace. They are therefore eternally before Him in His divine counsel, not as corrupt, neither merely as perfect, but as the perfected, the redeemed and delivered out of the world, the adopted children, washed from their sin, called and justified and sanctified and glorified. Thus it is in Rom. 8:29, 30. Hence, it is necessarily so that the object of this love of God are the elect, and the elect only. And again, it follows that God beholds His people eternally in Christ Jesus as their head, whom He ordained as such, and to whom He gave His people. Well, then, if we thus conceive of the people of God, of the object of the love of God, we can understand that love is the bond of perfectness, that it requires a perfect subject and a perfect object, and that nevertheless God can love His people though in time they are sinful in themselves, children of wrath as are also the others. For thus we read in Numbers 23:21: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel; the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.” He knows them, beholds them eternally as perfected in Christ through the way of sin and death, and as such they are the eternal objects of His immutable love. 

Hence, in the fullness of time God gloriously manifests His love in the sacrifice of His Son. Christ is Immanuel, God with us, the Son of God come into the flesh. And in Him, in the bloody tree of Calvary God reveals most gloriously the love wherewith He loved us from before the foundation of the world. For therein is the love of God manifested, that God sent His Son into the world, and sent Him into our, death, to be a propitiation for our sin. God reaches out in everlasting love for the object of His love into the lowest part of the earth, even into the depth of hell, when His Son in human nature cries out from the darkness of Golgotha: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” By that death of His Son He Himself brings the sacrifice for our sins, which we could never bring, nor even thought of bringing. By that death of His Son He reconciled us, that is, the whole church of all ages, all the elect, given to Christ by the Father, unto Himself. For He justified them in His blood. And therefore, He further manifests His love when once more He reaches out into the depth of the death of His Son, and raises Him as the first fruits, gives Him glory, eternal life, lifts Him up on high in Heaven, and exalts Him at His right hand, our Lord Jesus Christ is the central and highest manifestation of the love of God because He died for us while we were yet sinners. And through His death God reconciled us with Himself while we were, yet enemies. 

The second question is: how is it possible that we, who are by nature sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, can love God? The answer is: because God perfects His love through Christ Jesus in our hearts. Love is always of God, whether in God to Himself, in God to us, or in us to God. How do we come to taste and experience, to know the love of God to us? And how do we come to love Him? Is it perhaps thus, that God merely manifested His love to us as a love to sinners, as a sacrificing love, that He has that love to sinners proclaimed promiscuously to all that hear the gospel, and that by the mere proclamation of that unfathomable love the sinner is moved and attracted and persuaded to love God? That the matter is thus we would gather from much sentimental preaching about the love of God. God loved you so wonderfully: will you not love Him in return? But such is not the case. This might be the case if love were, as it is most generally presented, a sentimental feeling for sinners as such, a sentimental longing to bring them to heaven instead of to hell. But that is not the case. Love is the bond of perfectness. It requires a perfect subject and a perfect object. God, the eternally perfect subject, loved His eternally perfect people in Christ Jesus as He beheld them in His counsel. But this people cannot taste the love of God to them, neither can or will they love God, until they also are made perfect. By nature they are corrupt, that is, with all their mind and will and heart they stand in enmity against God. For the carnal mind is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Rom. 8:5-8. We have no delight in God as the only good and perfect. We hate Him. We do not seek Him. We flee from Him. And by nature we love sin and hate perfection, and we do not want to be delivered from the pollution of sin. Hence, we will have none of Him, though He manifest Himself to us in the face of Christ Jesus. He that hateth God hateth His Christ, and will crucify Him anew. 

Now it is the same power of the love of God that is manifested in Christ that reaches out into our hearts and draws us with cords of love out of the mire of sin and darkness into the fellowship of His perfection. The exalted Christ received the Spirit. And through that Spirit he returned to His church, dwells in them, and operates in them. It is by that Spirit that He regenerates us, and makes us partakers of His own perfect life of the resurrection. It is by that Spirit that He opens our eyes, that we may see; our ears, that we may hear; that He calls, and through the Word draws us unto Himself. It is by that Spirit that we, on the one hand, are made to see the misery of our sin and darkness and enmity against God; and, on the other hand, are made to thirst for the living God as He revealed Himself in all the beauty of His perfect love in Christ. It is by the Spirit that we are led to the cross, that we appropriate the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, righteousness, and eternal life. It is by that Spirit that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, so that we know and taste that He loved us with an everlasting love. And, it is by that Spirit too that the power of the love of God, which is love of perfection, or rather, love in the sphere of perfection, causes us to love Him, to have our delight in Him, to seek Him, to thirst after Him, to desire to be pleasing to Him, and therefore to flee from the world and from the corruption of our sin and to do His commandments. It is this truth which is always emphasized in Scripture, and especially in the first epistle of the apostle John: “And hereby do we know that we know, him (that is know Him in love), if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, ever as he walked.” I John 2:3-6.