William Gadsby Sermons (Complete)

11. The Love Of God

“Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”—Romans 5:5

A Sermon Preached By William Gadsby, July 3rd, 1836.

The love of God! Whenever we venture on a subject of such importance, we venture on a profound deep.

There is a love which God, as the God of nature, bears to creation as the work of his own hands; for he saw that it was very good. But the love of God, as shed abroad in the heart of a believer, as far exceeds it as heaven exceeds earth. God’s love, as a covenant God, the love of each glorious Person in the Trinity, was fixed on his people, without any reason assigned for it, only his own sovereign pleasure. Not because they were lovely more than others in themselves; for, considered as sinners, had Jehovah never loved us till we had turned our hearts to love him, till he had seen some beauty in us, he would never have loved us at all. But God loves us because he would, and this is the only reason he assigns for it. And this love is bounded by God’s sovereignty; we cannot get an iota beyond it, nor can any who were not interested in it in eternity ever creep into a knowledge of its infinite excellence. When Paul is entering into this solemn mystery, he stands amazed, and prays that the church at Ephesus might be able to comprehend with all saints what is the height, and depth, and length, and breadth, thereof. Neither angels nor men can ever sound the depth, scan the height, or measure the length of this love. In its depth, it is deeper than all our miseries and all our woes; in its height, it is higher than all the rebellion of our hearts; in its length, it is from everlasting to everlasting; and in its breath, it reaches through all the dark avenues of time, and beyond all the wanderings of the affections of his people; and, therefore, it is underneath them, above them, behind them, and before them. In short, they are hemmed in on every hand with this love.

Now this love of God is shed abroad in the heart of the believer. Each glorious Person in the one undivided Jehovah has evidenced this in a wonderful degree. What induced the Father to give his only Son to be stricken, smitten, and afflicted? Love. What induced the Son to stoop to come to this lower world, and take our nature, and suffer, bleed, and die? Love. He had fixed his heart on his people; and though he saw that Zion would prostitute herself, yet he never took his heart away from her. He will n«ver divorce his spouse nor for one moment forsake her. Love binds her to his heart, and as a proof that he loved her, he took her nature into union with his Godhead, that he might be able practically, fully, and efficaciously to follow her through all the dark avenues where sin might drive her; and he put away her transgressions by the sacrifice of’ himself, and will at last bring her to glory. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be made rich.” And he loves his people the same now he is in glory as he did when he appeared upon the earth the despised Nazarene, and he sympathizes with them in all their trials, temptations,, and distresses; and when they come to him with their temptations, he knows what they mean, and what will relieve them; for he has undergone the same. There is not a temptation of any description that any of his people can have, but he has endured the same, that he might in his great love be able to succour them.

The love of the Spirit is seen in our text, shedding abroad this love of God in our hearts. I know some of God’s people are saying, “This love cannot be shed abroad in my heart. I am so wretched, so loathsome, so destitute of life, there can be no love of God in me.” Well; what has put you out of conceit with your own pretty selves? There was a time when you thought so well of yourselves that you said, “If I am not saved, God help such a one;” but now you begin to look at yourselves and you think you are as far from God as the vilest of the vile. Well; how came this change about, that you now see your own unloveliness, and that you seem so filthy and polluted,, and that you groan under a sense of the loathsomeness that sin raises up within you? It is a measure of the love of God shed by the Spirit in your heart; and its shining there has made such a manifest display that you see yourselves as vile as the devil can make you, and wonder that God will have anything to do with you, except it is to send you to hell. Through the love of God shining in a measure in your heart, you see yourselves just the very reverse of what you once thought you were.

“Well,” says another child of God, “I once thought I had the love of God shed abroad in my heart, and thought I enjoyed it; and O, what sweet moments I had then! I could pray, and praise, and sing, and be joyful in God; but now my heart is quite out of tune, and I seem as if I could neither pray nor praise. If there be any passage suits me, it is that I have lost my first love.” Indeed! There is no such passage. It says, ” Thou hast left thy first love;” not lost it. God will take care we shall never lose it. “Well,” say you, “I have left it. I cannot sing, I cannot rejoice; and, therefore, whatever may have been my case, there is no love of God in my heart now.” You are a little mistaken, poor soul. It may be covered a little with lumber; but it is there. Perhaps you made more of your feelings of love than you did of the God from whence it came; and, therefore, God is now letting you know that you must not rest upon your feelings, but upon him. The people of God are prone to stumble here; and though a religion without feelings is not the religion of Christ, and though no quickened child of God can be satisfied without a feeling religion, yet when we are left to lean upon, and trust in, our feelings rather than the dear Lord from whence they come, the Lord, for wise ends, withholds them for a season, that we may know more sweetly and blessedly how to appreciate the glorious truths couched in the following texts: 2 Sam 23:5; Heb 6:17,18; Micah 7:8-10,18,19.

But when darkness envelopes the mind, and the heart feels almost as cold as ice, and as hard as a stone, it wants more than the efforts of nature to enable a poor sinner to realize an interest in the precious things of God, as couched in the just-named Scriptures.

Perhaps some poor trembling, tortured sinner is now saying, “I am both cold and dark and wretched, beyond the power of man to describe, and I dare not say that these passages of God’s Word belong to me; but I can say that I do not feel at home, nor can I be satisfied with my present feelings.” Well, poor child of God, here you are; groaning, and sighing, and mourning, because you cannot manifestively enjoy God, the God of all your hope, because you cannot sweetly trace your interest in him. Now, if there were no love at the bottom, there would be no uneasiness on account of this. You want to have sweet intercourse with God, to have your heart more in communion with him, and to worship him more sweetly and blessedly. Now, did you ever want to have intercourse with any character you hated and abhorred—that your heart is at enmity with? Then, if your grief is that you cannot enjoy God more, that you cannot have more sweet access unto him, that you cannot pour out your soul more freely to him, that you cannot tell him more your whole heart, that you cannot enter more deeply into his secrets, then God’s love must be there; for nature never can rise above its own source; no stream can rise above its fountain. But though the quickened children of God have the love of God in their hearts, yet it may be there like moisture in a sponge, and needs the sweet and powerful hands of the Spirit, which first communicated it to the heart, to press it down, or draw it forth, into act and exercise, or there will be no flowing out. If you are brought, in real feeling before God, to say, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes;” “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” There is the love of God at the bottom.” Then,” say you, “O when shall I come and appear before God? Search me, Lord, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I say again, if this be your case, there is the love of God at the bottom, and “most assuredly, in the Lord’s own time, this love will spring up, and you shall be brought to know that God himself was underneath the whole. But we must wait his time; for no man can get at it of himself; it is God’s special gift.

As far as God enables me, I like to pick up poor forlorn creatures in the hedges and highways. You know the commission of old was to compel such to come in. “For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord, because they called thee an outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after.” (Jer 30:17) Bless your souls, the Gospel is for them that none but God and poor sinners like themselves will have anything to do with; and God takes them in hand, and brings them to banquet upon his love, causing them to rejoice in his blessed name. We may, and some of us have, put to sea in a vessel of our own rigging. The sails of our zeal have, as we thought, been well arranged, and we have gone sweetly along, expecting to get to the end of our voyage, in eternal matters, without having even to tack about. But anon, a storm has arisen; our sails have been torn to shreds, and we have expected every moment to be dashed against the rocks and drowned. Just at this moment, the Captain of Everlasting Love life-boat has heaved in sight, and, with his immutable, “Thou shalt not be drowned,” the Lord has grappled hold of us, put us manifestively in his own vessel, and made it known to us that his watchful eye has been over us, and that though we seemed ready to perish, love has been in it all.

There are solemn moments, when such a sweet measure of God’s love is shed abroad in the heart as to deaden it to the world, driving out everything connected with the world, and the man can feelingly before God say,

“I love the Lord with mind and heart,
His people and his ways;
Envy, and pride, and lust depart,
And all his works I praise.”

His language is, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Everything that honours God is esteemed by him, and he seems swallowed up in obedience, thanksgiving, and praise. How solemn this worship is! Could you follow him to his secret place, there might not be much noise; but he is in God’s sanctuary, consecrated ground, secluded from the world; the heavens are opened, the Son of Man appears on the right hand of the Father, and there is a solemn going up to God and coming down from God, and the Person, blood, righteousness, and love of Christ are shed abroad by the Holy Spirit. There is a pleasure in it that no heart can describe, if God’s love has not been shed abroad in it. No fear of parting with right hands or right eyes here; for the soul feels that he could part with every fleshly thing for God. Give up the truth for fear of persecution, or be alarmed at the idea of losing his popularity? No. God’s love being thus shed abroad in the heart leads him to rest in the faithfulness of God, and he feels persuaded that though the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, yet God’s kindness shall not be taken away. The brook may be dried up, but the Spring-head is the same; and God will see to it that nothing shall hurt him. Torturing fear cannot possibly enter the heart while there is this glorious shedding abroad of the love of God. The believer can view all circumstances chained to the throne of God, and with solemnity of heart can sing,

“Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown,
Hang on his firm decree;
He sits on no precarious throne,
Nor borrows leave TO BE.”

Not a sparrow can fly without his notice, nor can a hair of our head fall to the ground without his bidding. He marshals all creatures, circumstances, and events for the well-being of his family; and faith, working by love, grasps in a solemn, “This God is my God, for ever and ever; he will be my guide even unto death.” And thus there is a sweet springing up into the Lord when his love is shed abroad in the heart by the blessed Spirit.

Well, brethren, how many of us are there here? Very few; and when we are there, we do not stop long; we soon get on the back ground again; but it is sweet work while we are there. We want nothing to be done but what will crown God’s brow. Reason gives way to revelation; faith takes God’s Word as a rule; and hope confidently looks forward to the fulfillment of the precious promises therein revealed. The believer feels as though he really had not soul enough to show forth the praises of God, and calls upon all his saints to unite, saying, “O love the Lord, all ye his saints, and let us exalt his name together.” These are sweet and blessed expressions of a heart that has the love of God shed abroad in it. Stephen was full of this love, and of the Spirit and of power, when he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. They stoned him; but what did he say? “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” He had too much to do with God’s love to want to be revenged of his enemies. He greatly rejoiced in the Lord, and his soul was joyful in his God. O, brethren! When faith can say, “My God,” and “he hath clothed me with the garment of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness,” it has well nigh grasped in all the blessedness that we can enjoy while traveling below; for if God has covered us with the robe of righteousness, he has wrapped us up in the righteousness of his Son, and heaven has no better to give; for it is perfect. When the love of God is powerfully shed abroad in the heart, faith sees everything, in measure, as God sees it. God says, “I see no spot in thee,” and faith sees that there is no spot; and thus beholds a blessedness in the righteousness of the Son of God more prizable than all the kingdoms of the world.

This love is the spring-head of all prayer, praise, faith, peace, joy, hope, humility, patience, and every other grace. I stand in need myself of it for the reviving of every grace, and none more than patience; and yet I am almost afraid sometimes to pray for it, lest I should have more trouble; for God does not give patience to play with. It is by tribulation that we arrive at patience.

This love is what Paul had in view in 1 Cor. xiii., which he there calls charity: “Now abideth faith, hope, charity; these three; but the greatest of these is charity;” because it is the greatest teeming out of God’s heart to the sinner, and the sinner’s to God: “Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth I desire beside thee.”

If this love is shed abroad powerfully in the heart, it is sure to lead to obedience: “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.” Love makes us wishful continually to keep idols away from the heart. I have heard some professors say, “Ah, well. I know I did wrong at such a time and at such a time; the Lord delivered me then, and I believe he will again.” It is tempting God, and insulting his blessed Majesty. If you are a child of God, you will be made to smart for it; and if you are not, you may go on till you open your eyes in black despair.

This love is shed abroad in the heart, as God’s gift to us. God has given himself and his Son, and, to complete the blessedness, he has given the Holy Spirit. How highly honoured are God’s people, to have the Trinity in Unity made manifest in their hearts as their God for ever. This Spirit is the Spirit of life, to quicken our dead souls; he is the Spirit of power, to subdue our iniquities, and raise our hopes to God; of prayer, and praise, to draw out our hearts in supplication, thanksgiving, and adoration; of truth, to seal it on the heart; and indeed, of all blessedness; for he shall “take of the things of Christ, and show them unto us;” so that, strictly speaking, he is God’s hand, to hand down the blessings of salvation to suit the wretched sinner’s case. With such a gift as this, what can we need? He is given us to protect us, to defend us, to guide us, and to do all in us, and for us, and by us, that we shall stand in need of through this wilderness; and thus we have secured to us all that is required to make us holy and happy.

Brethren, are we concerned about this gift? Is it your desire to nourish it, and to refuse everything in the way of it? May it be your happiness to know and feel the importance of being interested therein; for his name’s sake. Amen.