16 May 2021
Communion with God is always the enjoyment of the whole Godhead. Yet, it is also the enjoyment of each person of the Godhead: there is a distinct “flavour” about our fellowship with the Father, with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit.
Christians enjoy fellowship with the Father in love. It is true that Scripture speaks of the love of Jesus, the Son, and also of the Holy Spirit as the One who pours the love of God into our hearts; but Scripture places special emphasis on the love of the Father that flows to us through the Son and the Spirit. When John the Apostle writes “God is love,” it is the love of God the Father that he particularly has in view, since he goes on to explain how this love has been made known to us in the way “God (i.e. the Father) sent his only Son into the world.” (1 John 4:8,9)
God the Father is characterized by His infinitely gracious, tender, compassionate, and loving nature. This, Owen says, “is the great discovery of the gospel.” Outside of Christ, we know God only as full of wrath; we cannot think of Him in any other way. Of course, people will say that they “believe in a God of love.” But apart from Christ, this is either self-deceit or borrowed capital from the gospel. But apart from Christ, we can have no sure confidence of God’s love. Providence is too mixed with tragedy, and history is too marred by evil for us to be able to read off its pages “God is love.” If we believe that He is love on the grounds that things are getting well for us, our confidence will dissolve the moment life turns sour. No; outside of Christ, the conviction that God is love is a figment of our imagination. The truth is that, outside of Christ, there lies only judgement and wrath.
But the gospel gloriously affirms the love the Father has for lost sinners. He is the One who sent His Son so that we should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16); He is the One in whom we find the benediction of His love (2Cor. 13:14). This was the message that the Saviour emphasized to His disciples before His passion and death: “The Father Himself loves you.” (John 16:27)
Clearly, this love neither exists nor is manifested apart from the Son: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) Nor do we experience it apart from the Holy Spirit. For “God’s love (i.e. the Father’s love) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”(Rom.5:5)
Nevertheless, these streams of love flow to us from a fountain in God the Father. There are three ways in which God the Father loves:
1) There is the love which God willed good to the creature from eternity
2) There is the love by which He does good to the creature in time according to His
3) There is the love by which He delights Himself in the creature on account of the rays of His image seen in them
By the first, He elects us (John 313); by the second, He redeems and sanctifies us (Eph. 5:25; Rev. 1:5); but by the third He gratuitously rewards us as holy and just (Is. 62:3; Heb. 11:6).
Owen teaches us to linger over His love, to meditate on its multifaceted nature in order to appreciate its wonder. We must reflect on the love He had for us before we were born, and the purposes He then planned for our lives.This divine love stretches back into eternity and downwards into time.
There is the love that He has displayed in history in doing good to all people; then there is the love, planned in eternity and expressed in Christ, that we have now come to experience. It costs Him dearly to love us as sinners, for it required His willingness to send His Son and give Him up to the death of the cross in order to fulfill HIs purposes of love for us. We know that He loved us, but more than that, we now experience the love with which He loved us. He loves us with it still. Indeed, the Father Himself loves us! (John 16:27) What knowledge could be more wonderful than this? The Father comes to make His home with us. (John 14:23)
There is a spiritual sickness that often spoils our enjoyment of fellowship with God the Father. Many Christiasn, in their heart of hearts, are not deeply convinced that the Father indeed loves them. Christians walk oftentimes with exceeding troubled hearts concerning the thoughts of the Father towards them. They are well persuaded of the Lord Christ and his good-will; the difficulty lies in what is their acceptance with the Father. They may grasp the love of Christ, but there seems to be a gap between their trust in Him and their trust in the Father. It is almost as though they fear that behind Christ, the Father is actually distant and dark, even sinister. How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love. At the best, many think there is no sweetness at all in Him towards us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Christ. But the truth is that the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of the Father.
Owen detects the problem as the attack as the “serpent theology”. The serpent’s words to Adam and Eve cast doubt on the content, truthfulness, and reliability of God’s word: “Did God actually say…?” And when Eve responds that God had said that they would die if they ate of the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil: “The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.” His twisting of the word of God is designed to distort the character of God in Eve’s eyes. God had given them the fruit of all the trees in the garden to enjoy (Gen.2:16). Only one tree in the entire orchard was forbidden. Clearly, the heavenly Father wanted His children to show their love, trust, and obedience to Him by simply doing what He told them. In this way they would grow strong in faith as they gave glory to God. Obedience to His command could only strengthen their trust and love.
Our hearts are closed to God the Father because we think HIs heart is closed to us. Like Eve, we believe the lie of the enemy that the Father does not really love us. Owen sees this with great clarity: he knows that this mistrust may not be entirely dissolved by regeneration. It lingers on and plagues many Christians still. The seed of this disease of the soul is areadly in us and may flare up again and again. But why is it, then, that people think less of the Father’s love? It is in part because sometimes this is how the gospel is preached: “God loves you, because His Son, Jesus, died for you. So trust Him (Jesus) as your Saviour.” Here, a loving Saviour is seen to persuade a reluctant, even bitter, Father to be gracious. Jesus buys His Father’s love at infinite cost.
The truth is that there is no gap between the love of the Father and that of the Son. Christ died for us because the Father loves us, not in order to induce or persuade a reluctant Father to love us. All the love for us that we see in Jesus is the Father’s love too. Yes, it is expressed by and revealed in the death of Christ, but it is not purchased by it. Indeed, the Father’s love is antecedent to the work of Christ.
We need to take daily doses of the Father’s love and reflect on the high privilege of being His adopted children. Jesus is the beam, but the Father HImself is the sun of eternal love. Christ is the stream but through Him we are led to the Father who is the fountain of all grace and kindness. The Father Himself loves us; He never ceases to love us.