"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." (Jeremiah 31:3)
These promises were made to the children of Israel when in Babylonish captivity. It seems strange, and requires Divine wisdom to reconcile their then circumstances with such sweet words as these. They might say, "How is this? We are far from home; there are many years to pass, according to the prophets, if they are right (for they doubted them!) If they should be right, there are many years yet for us to live away from our Canaan Jerusalem home; and yet the Lord has told us that He has loved us with an everlasting love. "How," they might ask, "can this be, when we are in this great trial?" So, the Christian now is ready to say when he is exceedingly tried and afflicted, "Is this the effect of love? It appears rather to be the Lord's chastening rod, an evidence of His wrath." It is the narrow way that leads to life, and it requires Divine teaching for any of us to believe when we are sorely tried, that the trial is the effect of the love of God; but so it is, according to His word, and if we could always walk and think according to God's word, our doubts would vanish, and we should not so greatly question the Lord. Someone present, perhaps, is saying: "How can the Lord love me seeing that I am so tried every day, tried in Providence, tried about my soul's salvation, tried in regard to my nature, that seems always opposed to my better wishes, and yet the Lord says, He is loving me!" Impossible, unbelief will suggest. It is true, says faith; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth; and you will not get much comfort in life, unless you are brought to believe it. There may be at certain times a little joy, but it soon passes away, until we are brought to believe this sweet doctrine.
We want to notice, in the first place, the first clause of our text: "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me."
Secondly. We shall notice the eternity of His love. "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love."
Thirdly. Some proofs of the love of God to the Church, because love is an active grace. If we say we love a person, and then oppose him in everything, it will be sad evidence of our love to him.
1. We notice this clause, "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me," because, you who have read the Scriptures, and the thoughts of good men upon it, know that they have differed greatly. Dr. Gill, Matthew Henry, and others, say that these are the words of the Lord. Calvin tells us that they are the words of the Church. Therefore, between these two opinions we will notice them both. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying" (Here we see the Lord's eternal appearing for His people, and that he always said, and was saying then): "I have loved thee with an everlasting love:" that appears to me straight and right, according to God's word. The Lord, or His people, are saying: "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me;" joyfully they told it, acknowledging God's mercies to them as a nation and people for so many years, that the Lord always said it to them and of them as a nation: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." Let us look the other side of this question, and if we do so, we see the people saying; "The Lord used to appear for us, He appeared for our nation in olden times, but now there is no evidence of His appearing for us. It seems a sort of contradiction if we read it like this. We remember Egypt, His deliverance at the Red Sea, how He led our fathers through the wilderness, but He has not appeared for us of late. We have no evidence of it; as if this despairing feeling came over them--the Lord will appear no more. How this sets forth the Christian's experience. We are ready to say, "Years ago the Lord appeared for us, but now there is no evidence of His appearing; He used to be very good to us. We remember the time when we went to the house of God, and Sabbath after Sabbath we were greatly blessed and helped, but now it is all past. The Lord hath appeared of old, but there is no appearance now. What does it all mean?" How many Christians are desponding just in this way? When the time comes that the Lord withdraws His presence, and teaches them to walk by faith, and not by sight, then they are distressed.
"Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I sought the Lord?"
How is it? If I am the Lord's, and His love is eternal and always the same, how is it that now I go from Sabbath to Sabbath, from month to month, and get no melting seasons under the word. O, that I could return to the days of my youth. Just here the enemy appears, and tells us that it was all delusion, excitement, our natural feelings ran high, and that was all it was, and that if the Lord had blessed us then, He would bless us now. Here is our trial--you think of happy hours you spent in communion with God's people--you are ready to say now: "There does not appear to be a godly man on the earth." Perhaps the world has got into our hearts!
Here, then, there is an acknowledgment, and yet there is some regret attending it. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me." With many of God's people, as they get near to the end of their journey, sometimes the Lord is teaching them to walk by faith, and so their little faith is exceedingly tried--this spoils us in regard to joy, to believe that we are loved of the Lord, and yet feel as we do. Perhaps you believed in what is called progressive sanctification. A Christian said once to a minister, "Do you believe in progressive sanctification?" He said, "Do you mean that the work of grace in the heart gets holier?"--"No, for that was always holy."--"Do you mean that the old nature gets holier?"--"Oh no!"--"Then do you mean growth in grace?"--"I believe in this: Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, because this is scriptural." So Christians will find it spoils them from trying to make the old man better; you will have a task you will never perform. Wash him with snow water if you can, crucify him, do all you can; and the old fallen nature is the same still. Therefore we have to look to the Lord, and we do grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. So the people said then, and so the Christian is ready to say now, "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me." In whatever way we look at these words we see:--
2. How the Lord replies to it, that if they meant to say that the Lord used to appear for them, but He had not done so recently, and that they had no proof of His love because of their great trouble; then the Lord said, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love," notwithstanding your trials, and the way you have been led. How we misjudge the Lord! And this leads us to notice His love and the eternity of it. It is everlasting love. What a wonderful text. It is of no use for people to tell us there is a difference between everlasting and eternal; we do not believe it. It is eternal love: everlasting love. This leads us back in thought a long way.
"'Twas grace that wrote my name
In His eternal book;
'Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took."
He engaged to do it from all eternity, according to our text.
O, poor desponding soul, the Lord is saying, "You acknowledge that I used to appear for you and bless you, but I have not done so to your satisfaction of late, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love." "I have," God says! Christian friends, what love is here! The Eternal Three loved you--we wonder at this love, and you see it puts aside all that is in the creature. God loved these people in our text before He appeared to their fathers. He said, "You need not talk about appearing of old to your fathers. My love is everlasting love." The fire of Divine love was in the heart of God long before man was created. We read God is love. Then from eternity He has loved fallen man; this is eternal love; of ancient date. No one can say when God began to love man, for it had no beginning, it is everlasting love; it cannot abate. If God loved His Church from everlasting, He loves them now; and if it is everlasting love, He will love them to everlasting. We are so apt to think that God loves us only for a little while. He said long before man was made, or the heavens created, long before the highest archangel with his wings cleaved the air of glory, "I have loved thee." Is it true that we have been loved everlastingly? Awake all the powers of my soul and sing this everlasting and eternal love. So God the Father is called the First and the Last. Jesus, too, is the First and Last to the believer, and The Comforter was to come to the disciples and abide with them for ever. You are in great trouble today, perhaps, but there is no abatement in that love; there may be in our enjoyment of it, but it does not alter the fact for one moment.
3. If God has loved us with an everlasting love, what proof have we of it; because our love is known by our conduct. If we love a person, we seek his good. If God has loved man from everlasting, there must be many acts of His love that we can understand. His love is a boundless love, we cannot fathom it, or rise to its heights, we cannot comprehend it. We say sometimes the sun is very warm when it shines, and how cheering it is; but we know very little of what the heat of the sun is, we feel it a little and enjoy it. So with the love of God; we cannot realize what it is; it is so great. So with the wind, so nice and bracing, but we do not know what its power is. "So is every one that is born of the Spirit," said the Saviour. God's love has done wondrous things. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Who can understand that? We stand on the sea shore and look across to the horizon and it is all sea; we can hear and speak of the love of God the Father in the gift of His Son, but we cannot understand it; it is everlasting. Here are depths profound, heights to which angels cannot ascend; the summit of love has never been reached, and is known only to the Lord Himself. What has He done? Given Christ for us. The eternal Father so loved the Church that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. How amazing! And does God love us as a Father? Does He love us as His own children? Has He made a family for Himself, arranged all our temporal affairs? Just watch God's hand if you are in trouble; say to your soul as the Psalmist did: "Fret not thyself." Be quiet and watch God's hand. He that watches God's providence shall never want a providence to watch--said an old writer. Let us see how God has ordered everything for us. The steps of the Church all through time are ordered. Marvelous it is in the Scriptures of truth: wondrous love. He has given Christ to die for us--provided a home where His Son and His family shall be--He sent His Son that we might be saved from wrath through Him--He appointed the time and place of our birth--He has treasured up on Christ divine grace for "all that come unto God by Him."--Love most tenderly expressed!
"What robe is brought to hide his shame,
The best, the very best."
God always does the very best for His people. I wish we could always think so. These things are all the effect of His love. We might have been lost, crushed for ever, but for this everlasting love of our Heavenly Father.
Then look at the love of Christ, Ephesians 3:16-19. "That he would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." This is my great desire. Here is love, poor sinner; what do you think of it? O, how wonderful; is it not worth our consideration? Oh! The love of the Father in the gift of His Son. Oh! The love of the Son in coming down to die for lost and ruined man.
There is a beautiful painting by Dore, and the paint was not dry when he died. I have not seen it, I have seen his other works. Christ is represented standing at the end of a valley, the cross on His shoulder, and his finger pointing upwards; all around Him are the poorest, the sick and afflicted of mankind (the sick and the poor are always the nearest to Christ), a long way off are respectable people, still farther away the noble and the great. A good idea! For we shall never come near to Him unless we are tried and afflicted. Under the hill is a leper lying. Down yonder a serpent is crawling away because Christ is there; he cannot endure the presence of Christ. Upon the hillside is a narrow pathway: where does it lead to? To the land "where everlasting spring abides and never fading flowers"--it is only just over the hill there. A clergyman of the Church of England who saw the picture was quite overcome. The face of Christ is so benevolent, so full of love; but the love of Christ is greater than Dore could conceive. These pictures bring Christ near to our imagination when the heart is melted.
"Yea, I have loved thee." I have given My Son for your redemption. Jesus is saying, Yes, I have loved thee with an everlasting love--I left the abodes of the blest--I left my Heavenly home--I assumed your nature--I became a poor little outcast infant exposed to all the trials of life, very few cared about Me--I grew up to manhood and was tempted by the devil for your sake because I loved you--I proved to you that My commission was from Heaven--I healed the sick, cast out devils, raised the dead to life--I proved My love to you in my agony in Gethsemane, My disciples were there to witness it; a sight so overwhelming that it seemed to stop their mental powers and they fell asleep; it was all for thee (who can imagine it, it was for poor ruined man who only sought to hate and despise Him), I stood in Pilate's hall, they smote Me, they spat in My face, I bore it all without complaining, because I loved thee--they platted a crown of thorns and put it on My head, it pierced My temples--they smote Me on the face and on the head when the crown of thorns was there--it was all for thee--"I have loved thee with an everlasting love." I might have been in Heaven then, but I died as thou knowest. I died to save thee. I rose from the dead for thy justification--I ascended to heaven to intercede for thee there. What greater proof can you have of the love of Christ to man, than all His suffering life, His painful death, and all He did for them? What greater love? "I go to prepare a place for you." I have prepared mansions up yonder, and when the journey of life is ended, I will come again and you shall sit on My throne, as I have overcome and sit down with My Father on His throne. You need not fear dying, for I shall be with you. You have My own promise that I will be with you as you pass away--I will come and take you to Myself, that where I am there ye may be also.
Do you want greater proof than this?
The Holy Ghost is saying, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love." I came into your poor heart when defiled and dead in sin--I subdued the power of sin--I turned the devil and his hellish crew out of thy heart--I spoiled the house of the strong man and took possession--I will comfort and encourage thee--I will support thee, and I will lead thee through the journey of life--and I too will be with thee in the Jordan of death. "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love." My love shall know no abatement.
"But, dear Lord," we say, "we do wrong; sometimes we are disappointed in ourselves," but God is not disappointed. He says: "I knew thou wouldest deal treacherously, and art called a transgressor from the womb, (Isa. 48:8) but I have loved thee, and will love thee in spite of all thy sins and doubts and fears."
And if you want something more:
Lastly--There is the evidence of His love to thee. "Therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." I love this drawing. In the margin it is: "Have I extended loving kindness to thee." Ps. 36:10. "O continue Thy loving kindness unto them that know thee; and Thy righteousness to the upright in heart." If the Lord has drawn us, we know something about it; it cannot take place without our being acquainted with it. Hos. 11:4. "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." If we are weary, hungry, and thirsty, and we know where there is plenty, we seek for it. Do we want Christ? We know if we do. He draws His people to Himself. "And I if I be lifted up will draw all men unto Me." (John 12:32) Avaunt! Enemy of the faith, telling us that we started first. God says: "I have drawn thy affections after Me in days gone by, when first you began to think of Me and wished to know Me; I did that." "Therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." He drew us to love His truth; we were delighted to hear of Christ, to sing of Christ. He has drawn your heart in love to Himself, and you feel it and know it. When the Lord makes us willing in the day of His power, He opens the heart, and we are willing to be drawn by His love. He draws us in prayer to seek salvation by Christ alone. He drew us by His Spirit to the fountain open for sin and uncleanness, when we were so filthy. Poor prodigal, He drew you, too. Thoughts of your Father's house came over you in the midst of your poverty and destitution; you had spent all, but your Father never upbraided you. "This My Son was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found," and they began to be merry.
So the Lord draws His people by His love, by His teaching; draws us on our way home. It was our malady and our sin made us follow after Him, and His precious blood and pardoning grace. These are proofs that a person is loved with an everlasting love. We have these proofs, and we dare not deny them, but would rather glory in the love that drew us from the abyss of sin, that has drawn us after Him for so many years, that is drawing us away from this sinful world, that is still leading us and drawing us along the way home. This love, how beautiful. Child of God, follow it, and it will lead thee away from the world to Himself. He tells thee He has loved thee with an everlasting love. John 13:1. "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Not only to the end of His life, but to the end of their lives. So the Apostle triumphs in this, and so may every believer. "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." All is safe: nothing can separate us from His love. I do not wonder that we read in Revelation that in the glory world they are singing unto Him that loved them, redeemed them, and blessed them, and you and I, when landed safely on that shore, will sing the same great song. It was love drew us, love led us, it was eternal love fixed upon us, we know no reason why He loved us, but having loved us, He will love us to the end, till we surround His throne and sing of His love for ever and ever. Amen.
"Now may the love of God supreme,
Our thankful tongues employ;
Hosannahs sing to Jesus' name,
In songs of sacred joy.
'Twas God the Father fixed His love
On us in Christ our Head;
And God the Son, with pity moved,
For us engaged to bleed.
And God the Holy Ghost applies
Our Jesus' precious blood;
And to our spirits testifies
That we are born of God."