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All Loves Excelling: The Saints' Knowledge of Christ's Love (Puritan Paperbacks) Paperback – June 1, 1998
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About the Author
John Bunyan was born in Elstow, near Bedford, in 1628, the son of Thomas Bunyan and Margaret Bentley. He followed his father into the tinker's trade but rebelled against God and 'had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God'. As a teenager, he joined Cromwell's New Model Army, but continued his rebellious ways. His life was saved on one occasion when a fellow-soldier took his place at the siege of Leicester, and 'as he stood sentinel he was shot in the head with a musket bullet and died'.
Discharged from the army after three years, Bunyan married a God-fearing woman (whose name is unknown) in 1648, who brought two books to the marriage: 'The Plain Man s Pathway to Heaven' (Arthur Dent) and 'The Practice of Piety' (Lewis Bayly). These convicted Bunyan of his sin and he made attempts to reform his life. But he realised that he was lost and without Christ when he came into contact with a group of women whose joyous conversation about the new birth and Christ deeply impressed him . In 1651 the women introduced him to their pastor in Bedford, John Gifford, who was instrumental in leading Bunyan to repentance and faith.
That same year he moved to Bedford with his wife and four children, including Mary, his firstborn, who had been blind from birth. He was baptised by immersion in the River Ouse in 1653. Appointed a deacon of Gifford's church, Bunyan's testimony was used to lead several people to conversion. By 1655 Bunyan was himself preaching to various congregations in Bedford, and hundreds came to hear him. John Owen said of him that he would gladly exchange all his learning for Bunyan s power of touching men's hearts.
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Until what seems to be the decisive moment
"One day as I was passing into the field… this sentence fell upon my soul. “Thy righteousness is in heaven.” And me thought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand, there, I say, was my righteousness, so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, “he lacks my righteousness,” for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself. "The same yesterday, today , and forever." Heb 13:8. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my affliction and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God (about the unforgivable sin) left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God"
During the Act of Unconformity in 1662, 2000 Puritan pastors were forced out of their churches. Bunyan was forced to stop preaching or he would face prison time. He refused to stop preaching and spent 12 years in prison away from his family. Through it all he rejoiced in what will be the topic of our time this morning: The Love of Christ.
His book titled All loves excelling: It is an exposition of a portion of the Apostle Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3: 18,19 "which states "that you…may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
For this morning I would like to narrow in on this love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and following Bunyon's outline will give you some nuggets that will hopefully lift up the heads of those who might be discouraged by the circumstances of life and sin, and for those who are feeling rather full and happy from this holiday season that you will know that it is only on account of Christ's love that you are experiencing such joy. And of course we can seek the same end for which Paul made the initial prayer "that you may be filled with all the fullness of God "or in other words be all that God wants you to be, that is , spiritually mature. Since God himself, Christ himself, is the standard, then this means being perfect as he is perfect, being holy as he is holy. Knowing the Love of Christ plays an insurmountable role in this.
Bunyan's outline goes like this:
The Love of Christ
The Exceeding Greatness of it
and the Knowledge of it
First, Who Christ is. Second, What love is. Third, What the love of Christ is.
He begins by setting the stage for the love of Christ by looking at his person and then comparing him to the objects of his love
Let's start with Christ in his person- who is he?
He is called God (John 1:1). The King of glory (Psa 24:10), and Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). The brightness of the glory of his Father (Heb 1:3). The head over all things (Eph 1:22). The Prince of life (Acts 3:15). The Creator of all things (Col 1:16). The upholder of all things (Heb 1:3). The disposer of all things (Matt 28:18). The only beloved of the Father (Matt 11).
"Wherefore what we have under consideration, is so much the more to be taken notice of; namely, that a person so great, so high, so glorious, as this Jesus Christ was, should have love for us, that passes knowledge. It is common for equals to love, and for superiors to be beloved; but for the King of princes, for the Son of God, for Jesus Christ to love man thus: this is amazing, and that so much the more, for that man the object of this love, is so low, so mean, so vile, so undeserving, and so inconsiderable, as by the scriptures, everywhere he is described to be.
The persons of him beloved, are called transgressors, sinners, enemies, dust and ashes, fleas (1 Sam 24:14), worms, shadows, vapours: vile, sinful, filthy, unclean, ungodly fools, madmen. And now is it not to be wondered at, and are we not to be affected herewith, saying, And wilt thou set thine eye upon such an one? But how much more when He will set his heart upon us. And yet this great, this high, this glorious person, verily, verily liveth such.
Then Bunyon thought it was necessary to point out the differences between Christ's love and ours.
Love in us is a passion of the soul, and being such, is subject to ebb and flow, and to be extreme both ways. For whatever is a passion of the soul, whether love or hatred, joy or fear, is more apt to exceed, or come short, than to keep within its due bounds. Hence, oft-times that which is loved today is hated tomorrow (2 Sam 13:15); yea, and that which should be loved with bounds of moderation, is loved to the drowning of both soul and body in perdition and destruction (1 Tim 6:9,10).
In other words we might love something at first only to soon despise the thing later, you see this in many marriages. On the other hand we tend to make ultimate things out of good things and so make idols out of the created thing instead of worship the creator.
We are often drawn to love things that God hates
We will only love something that has value, or appear delightful to the lust and fancy of the person loving- we can't just set ourselves to love them no matter what, they must draw us in with beauty.
Our love decays rapidly- what started off so strong is gone at the slightest disappointment of our expectations.
We therefore must put a vast difference betwixt love, as found in us, and love as found in Christ, and that, both as to the nature, principle, or object of love.
Love in Christ is
1. Eternal- Fixed on us before the foundation of the world. Before we were or had done anything the least good, then were his thoughts on us
2. Free- He loves us because he will; there was, there is, nothing in us for which we should be loved
3. Unchangeable- Though we change every day, his love changeth not
4. Distinguishing- He hath not thus loved all the world. Why should he fix his love on us, and pass by millions from whom we differ not by nature.
This is his natural love within his own essence. His Being. God is Love therefore Christ being God of Very God- is love.
But now, though the love that is in him is essential to his nature, and can vary no more than God himself: yet we see not this love but by the fruits of it, nor can it otherwise be discerned. "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16).
This my friends is where we see Christ's loves greatest manifestation:
Look at the cross:
The love of Christ appears to be wonderful by the death he died: In that he died, in that he died such a death. 'Twas strange love in Christ that moved him to die for us: strange, because not according to the custom of the world. Men do not use, in cool blood, deliberately to come upon the stage or ladder, to lay down their lives for others; but this did Jesus Christ, and that too for such, whose qualification, if it be duly considered, will make this act of his, far more amazing, He laid down his life for his enemies (Rom 5), and for those that could not abide him; yea, for those, even for those that brought him to the cross: not accidentally, or because it happened so, but knowingly, designedly, (Zech 12:10), he knew it was for those he died, and yet his love led him to lay down his life for them.
Christ was more cheerful in all his life on earth, than when he was going to lay down his life for them, At the passover meal with his disciples he thanked God (Luke 22:19), now he sang (Matt 26:30). But this is not all. He did not only die, but died such a death, as indeed cannot be expressed. He was content to be counted the sinner: yea, to be counted the sin of the sinner, nor could this but be odious to so holy a Lamb as he was, yet willing to be this and thus for that love that he bare to men.
And then Bunyan shows forth Christ's Condescention. His stooping down from his position to save us.
This was my favorite portion of the whole book: BAre with me as I read a long portion.
Christ, as I have told you, was even before his sufferings, a person of no mean generation, being the Son of the eternal God: Neither had his Father any more such sons but he; consequently he of right was heir of all things, and so to have dominion over all worlds. For, "for him were all things created" (Col 1:16). And hence all creatures are subject to him; yea the angels of God worship him (Heb 1). Wherefore as so considered, he augmented not his state by becoming lower than the angels for us, for what can be added to him, that is naturally God. Indeed he did take, for our sakes, the human nature into union with himself, and so began to manifest his glory; and the kindness that he had for us before all worlds, began now eminently to shew itself. Had this Christ of God, our friend, given all he had to save us, had not his love been wonderful? But when he shall give for us himself, this is more wonderful. But this is not all, the case was so betwixt God and man, that this Son of God could not, as he was before the world was, give himself a ransom for us, he being altogether incapable so to do, being such an one as could not be subject to death, the condition that we by sin had put ourselves into.
Wherefore that which would have been a death to some, to wit, the laying aside of glory and becoming, of the King of princes, a servant of the meanest form; this he of his own good-will, was heartily content to do. Wherefore, he that once was the object of the fear of angels, is now become a little creature, a worm, an inferior one (Psa 22:6), born of a woman, brought forth in a stable, laid in a manger (Luke 2:7), scorned of men, tempted of devils (Luke 4:2), was beholden to his creatures for food, for raiment, for harbour, and a place wherein to lay his head when dead. In a word, he "made himself of no reputation, took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7), that he might become capable to do this kindness for us. And it is worth your noting, that all the while that he was in the world, putting himself upon those other preparations which were to be antecedent to his being made a sacrifice for us, no man, though he told what he came about to many, had, as we read of, an heart once to thank him for what he came about (Isa 53:3). No, they railed on him, they degraded him, they called him devil, they said he was mad, and a deceiver, a blasphemer of God, and a rebel against the state: They accused him to the governor; yea, one of his disciples sold him, another denied him, and they all forsook him, and left him to shift for himself in the hands of his horrible enemies; who beat him with their fists, spat on him, mocked him, crowned him with thorns, scourged him, made a gazing stock of him, and finally, hanged him up by the hands and the feet alive, and gave him vinegar to increase his affliction, when he complained that his anguish had made him thirsty. And yet all this could not take his heart off the work of our redemption. To die he came, die he would, and die he did before he made his return to the Father, for our sins, that we might live through him. 6 Nor may what we read of in the word concerning those temporal sufferings that he underwent be over-looked, and passed by without serious consideration; they being a part of the curse that our sin had deserved! For all temporal plagues are due to our sin while we live, as well as the curse of God to everlasting perdition, when we die. Wherefore this is the reason why the whole life of the Lord Jesus was such a life of affliction and sorrow, he therein bare our sicknesses, and took upon him our deserts: So that now the curse in temporals, as well as the curse in spirituals, and of everlasting malediction, is removed by him away from God's people; and since he overcame them, and got to the cross, it was by reason of the worthiness of the humble obedience that he yielded to his Father's law in our flesh. For his whole life (as well as his death) was a life of merit and purchase, and desert. Hence it is said, "he increased in favour with God" (Luke 2:52). For his works made him still more acceptable to him: For he standing in the room of man, and becoming our reconciler to God; by the heavenly majesty he was counted as such, and so got for us what he earned by his mediatory works; and also partook thereof as he was our head himself. And was there not in all these things love, and love that was infinite? Love which was not essential to his divine nature, could never have carried him through so great a work as this: Passions here would a failed, would a retreated, and have given the recoil; yea, his very humanity would here have flagged and fainted, had it not been managed, governed, and strengthened by his eternal Spirit. Wherefore it is said, that "through the eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God" (Heb 9:14). And that he was declared to be the Son of God, with so doing, and by the resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:4).
What else did Christ obtain for us by his death on our behalf?
(6.) Another improvement that the Lord Christ has made of his death, for his, is the obtaining, and taking possession of heaven for them. "By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Heb 9:12). This heaven! who knows what it is? (Matt 22:23) This glory! who knows what it is? It is called God's throne, God's house (John 14:2), God's habitation; paradise (2 Cor 12:4), the kingdom of God, the high and holy place (Isa 57:15). Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22), and the place of heavenly pleasures (Psa 16:11); in this heaven is to be found, the face of God for ever (Psa 41:12): Immortality, the person of Christ, the prophets, the angels, the revelation of all mysteries, the knowledge of all the elect, ETERNITY.
Isn't this too good to be true?
What about this love now that he has ascended in glory?
Thomas Goodwin taught that Christ sympathizes with us now based upon Hebrews 4:14-15 (REad Aloud)
Christ's human nature knows everything that happens to believers on earth. Jesus says to HIs church in Revelation 2:2, I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance" This is possible because Christ's human nature is filled with the Holy Spirit beyond measure, and the Spirit is like Christ's eyes in all the earth Rev. 5:6. Knowing our distress, he remembers how He felt while facing similar miseries. Christ even knows the experience of sins guilt and the horror of facing God's wrath against sin. Although personally sinless, Christ bore all the sins of HIs people. His knowledge of our pain also with the memory of His pain moves His heart to overflow with compassion.
Christ sympathizing with us in heaven is in no way suffering in heaven as He did on earth. He is no longer subject to any frailty, weariness, tears, exhaustion, or fear. On the other hand, He remains a person with human emotions and a human body. He is not a spirit or a ghost. And His frailty is replaced with a vastly expanded capacity for the affections of love. Christ is God and man. As God, Christ is infinite, eternal, and unchanging, but As a man, He has been lifted up to a new level of glory. Goodwin said, "for it is certain that as his knowledge was enlarged upon his entering into glory, so his human affection of love and pity are enlarged in solidity, strength, and reality…Eph. 3:19, "The love of Christ, God-man, passeth knowledge. So Christ is not hurt by our sufferings, but His human soul responds to our sufferings with glorious, beautiful tenderness.
Crompton who wrote a life and theology of Thomas Goodwin summarized Goodwin's teachings, saying, "Christ, as our High Priest was not just touched with the feelings of our infirmities during His time on earth, taking only the memory of it to heaven. But now in heaven, in a glorified state, He is touched in His very feelings for us. This is by no means a weakness of any sort. Rather, this ability to feel for us is part of His power. It is a perfection and strength of love and grace
Thomas Goodwin concluded his book the Heart of Christ in Heaven towards Sinners on Earth with four applications to believers:
1. Christ's heart of compassion affords us the strongest encouragements against sin. We know that Christ is not at rest in HIs heart until our sins are removed. Those sins move HIm more to pity than to anger even though He hates them.
2. Whatever trial, temptation, or misery we may suffer, we know that Christ also endured it and that His heart moves to relieve us in our distress.
3.The thought of how much we grieve Christ's heart by sin and disobedience is the strongest incentive we have against sinning.
4.In all our miseries and distresses, though every human comforter fails, we know that we have a Friend who will help, pity, and succor us: Christ in heaven
The Exceeding Greatness of it
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. In that it is said to pass knowledge, 'tis manifest it is exceeding great, or greatly going beyond what can be known; for to exceed, is to go beyond, be above, or to be out of the reach of what would comprehend that which is so. And since the expression is absolutely indefinite, and respecteth not the knowledge of this or the other creature only: it is manifest, that Paul by his thus saying, challengeth all creatures in heaven and earth to find out the bottom of this love if they can. The love of Christ which passeth knowledge. I will add, that forasmuch as he is indefinite also about the knowledge, as well as about the persons knowing, it is out of doubt that he here engageth all knowledge, in what enlargements, attainments, improvements, and heights soever it hath, or may for ever attain unto. It passeth knowledge (Eph 3:19).
Of the same import also is that other passage of the Apostle a little above in the self-same chapter. I preach, saith he, among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: or those riches of Christ that cannot by searching, be found out in the all of them: The riches, the riches of his love and grace. The riches of his love and grace towards us. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made10 rich" (2 Cor 8:9). Ye know the grace, that is so far, and so far every believer knows it: for that his leaving heaven and taking upon him flesh, that he might bring us thither, is manifest to all. But yet, all the grace that was wrapped up in that amazing condescension, knoweth none, nor can know: for if that might be, that possibility would be a flat contradiction to the text: "The love of Christ which passeth knowledge." Wherefore the riches of this love in the utmost of it, is not, cannot be known by any: let their understanding and knowledge, be heightened and improved what it may. Yea, and being heightened and improved, let what search there can by it be made into this love and grace. "That which is afar off, and exceeding deep, who can find out?" (Eccl 7:24) And that this love of Christ is so, shall again be made more apparent. But at present we will proceed to particular challenges for the making out of this, and then we will urge those reasons that will be for the further confirmation of the whole.
He gives 4 reasons why the love of Christ surpasses knowledge:
1. Eternal- Because It is eternal. All that is eternal, has attending of it, as to the utmost knowledge of it, a fourfold impossibility. 1. It is without beginning. 2. It is without end. 3. It is infinite. 4. It is incomprehensible.
2. Because we cannot know the utmost of our sin.
1. Before we can know this love of Christ, as afore, we must necessarily know the nature of sin, that is, what sin is, what sin is in itself. But no man knows the nature of sin to the full; not what sin in itself is to the full. The Apostle saith, "That sin, [that is in itself] is exceeding sinful" (Rom 7:13). That is, exceeding it as to its filthiness, goes beyond our knowledge: But this is seen by the commandment. Now the reason why none can, to the full, know the horrible nature of sin, is because none, to the full, can know the blessed nature of the blessed God. For sin is the opposite to God.
Besides, there are many sins committed by us, dropping from us, and that pollute us, that we are not at all aware of; how then should we know that love of Christ by which we are delivered from them?
3. Reason Third, He that altogether knoweth the love of Christ, must, precedent to that, know not only all the wiles of the devil; but also all the plottings, contrivings and designs and attempts of that wicked one; yea, he must know, all the times that he hath been with God, together with all the motions that he has made that he might have leave to fall upon us, as upon Job and Peter, to try if he might swallow us up (Job 1 and 2, Luke 22:31). But who knows all this? no man, no angel. For, if the heart of man be so deep, that none, by all his actions, save God, can tell the utmost secrets that are therein; how should the heart of angels, which in all likelihood are deeper, be found out by any mortal man. And yet this must be found out before we can find out the utmost of the love of Christ to us. I conclude therefore from all these things, that the love of Christ passeth knowledge: or that by no means, the bottom, the utmost bounds thereof can be understood.
4. Reason Fourth, He that will presume to say, this love of Christ can be to the utmost known by us, must presume to say that he knoweth the utmost of the merits of his blood, the utmost exercise of his patience, the utmost of his intercession, the utmost of the glory that he has prepared and taken possession of for us. But I presume that there is none that can know all this, therefore I may without any fear assert, there is none that knows, that is, that knows to the full, the other.
The knowledge of it
But the greatest attainment that as to the understanding of the love of Christ, we can arrive to here, is to know that it surpasses knowledge.
To speak of Christ's love as surpassing knowledge means that it is so great that one can never know it fully. WE can never plumb its depths or comprehend its magnitude. No matter how much we know of the love of Christ, how fully we enter into his love for us, there is always more to know and experience. and the implication, in the light of the following words, is that we cannot be as spiritually mature as we should be unless we are empowered by God to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.
So how do we know more of this love? Be a student of Christ. Live with the pages of scripture ever before you. And delight in knowing him. Cast your cares upon him, pray to him, sing to him, speak of him, boast in him, trust in him.
Fellowship with other believers and know that the love shown to you by them is Christ's love. The text in Eph 3:18 says that all the saints might know what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love Christ that surpasses knowledge.
Does your heart warm at the the thought of being with Christ forever and increasingly knowing his love that surpasses knowledge? A true child of God can identify with this.
What if this is not you? What if you don't find yourself delighting in Christ, have never experienced the love of Christ and wonder why you are even here. There is a good chance you have not yet been converted. You will not enter heaven unless God's Spirit teaches you to hate sin, to repent of it, to forsake it, and to turn to Christ, believing in Him alone for salvation and loving Him above all.
For those who are bruised under the weight of sin and want to know the love of Christ, his arms are wide open, come to him.
For believers Joel Beeke ( a great puritan historian and pastor) writes
Ps. 45:11 says of the anticipated marriage between Christ and His bride, "So shall the king greatly desire your beauty." Dear believer, the King of kings will make us His queen of heaven, and we will be beautiful in his sight. The angels will be our servants, and the King will take us by hand into his garden of paradise and show us His estate.
To that love, we will respond with singing and praise:
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus! Spread His praise from shore to shore;
How He liveth, ever liveth, changeth never, nevermore;
HOw he watches o'er His loved ones, died to call them al His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o'er them from the throne!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Love of very love the best;
Tis an ocean vast of blessing, 'tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus! 'Tis a heaven of heaven's to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee (Francis)