GOD’S LOVE IN FOUR DIMENSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-5-76 10:50 a.m.
This is the concluding day of our intercessory prayer for foreign missions and the conversion of the world. And in keeping with that week, I have this sermon in my soul entitled Love for a Lost World, and it arises out of one of the most unusual coincidences in the Word of the Lord. I am reading the prayer of the apostle in Ephesians 3, beginning at verse 14: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." You see, I love for our people to kneel when they pray. And that is the way Paul did:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by the 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;
Of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now the benediction:
Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
What a marvelous prayer. And out of it he is praying for us, that we may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. There are no shores. It is boundless and bottomless and measureless, the infinite love of God extended toward us in Christ Jesus. That is so great a truth. It is sometimes even difficult for the mind to receive it, even though we would desire to believe it. There are so many things that interdict such a faith. All nature seems to contradict it. Nature is so pitiless and so cruel. It seems to have no place in it for God. It just runs of itself.
In these last several issues of the journal of our Foreign Mission Board called The Commission, I have been reading and looking at pictures of the devastation of this earth. One by vast floods in Bangladesh; again, a terrible earthquake in Guatemala, and in this current issue, the vast tidal wave that swept over the Philippine Islands, tossing great buildings around as though they were toys. And the homeless and the diseased and the starving that follow those visitations from nature is almost pathetically indescribable. Nor is it in nature alone that we seem to find an interdiction to a revelation that God would love us so boundlessly.
The story of humanity itself is many times so harsh and so pitiless and so cruel. How does God look upon war and bloodshed and devastation, and seemingly does not care? It just continues. And the sorrow and the tears that follow after are so poignant. Yet the text says that He prays for us, that we may be able to comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ.
But the apostle doesn’t say it just as we might think. He says that it passeth knowledge [Ephesians 3:19]. That is, the truth of the love of God is not forensic, or dialectic, or speculative, or academic, or philosophical. It passeth knowledge; it is not something that you express in formulae, or in mathematical equations. It passeth knowledge; it is an experiential truth that we comprehend, he says, with all saints. It is something that we share in our souls. It is a revelation of God. It is an experiential truth; the love of God in its breadth and its length, in its depth and its height.
Now, in one of those coincidences, or in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it’s an amazing thing to me. John 3:16, the golden text of the Bible, is exactly that, the love of God in its breadth and length, and in its depth and height: "For God so loved world," the breadth of it, "that He gave His only begotten Son," the length to which the Lord did go, "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish," the depths from which He raises us, "but have everlasting life," the heights of glory to which we ascend, in His grace.
First, the breadth of the love God, "For God so loved the world"; there are three words that the Greek New Testament will use for "world." One is ge, ge: your geography – grapho, to write. Ge, the earth; to write it down, geography. Ge is the word referring to the dirt and the substance and the soil, the earth – ge. Another Greek word translated "world" is oikoumenē. That refers to the people, the inhabitable world. And that’s the word that I would have supposed he would have used here, but he didn’t. The third Greek word for world is kosmos. And the Greeks used it because, being sensitive to beauty and symmetry, the Greeks saw the beauty of God’s handiwork in the creation around them, and they called it a kosmos, a beautiful arrangement. Your word cosmetic comes from it; a girl who seeks to make her ugly face beautiful – cosmetics, kosmos, beautiful. It refers to the whole creation. God so loved it, in all of its parts, its deserts, and its burned out stars, and its fallen humanity. "God so loved" the entire creation, fallen and in sin.
Do you remember that text in Romans 8:21? "For the whole creation, all of it, for the whole creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God." It is the purpose of the Lord through Christ, that all of God’s purchased possession shall be redeemed and delivered. There is coming a time when there’ll be a new heaven [Revelation 21:1]. There’ll be no more burned out stars and vacant planets. We’re learning the extent of the Fall by our visit to the moon and by our pictures of Mars. They are dead and sterile, but there’s coming a time when they will live.
I think the entire creation of God will be the habitat of the Lord’s redeemed. You’ve heard me say a thousand times, I hope the Lord gives me a planet of my own where I can just get me a soapbox or a pulpit and just preach and never have to look at a clock. Never have to think of quitting. Just go on forever! Ah, what a wonderful thing to think about! And every once in a while, somebody will come up to me and say, "Pastor, and in that day, I hope God puts me on your planet." Ah, isn’t that a wonderful thing! The whole creation will be redeemed, all of it. And there’ll be no deserts on this planet. And there’ll be no hurricanes, and there’ll be no tidal waves, but it will be perfect in the redemption of our Lord. "For God so loved the world" [John 3:16], the whole kosmos, and for a man to preach the love of God in Christ Jesus, is to deliver the very heart of the message of the revelation in these Holy Scriptures. God loved us, and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20].
In reading the life of the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody, I came across an incident that he described that was astonishing to me. The American evangelist was in Birmingham, England holding a revival meeting, one that the Lord signally blessed. After it was over, a young man came up to him to bid him goodbye and said, "Mr. Moody, I’m coming to America someday, and when I do, I will preach for you." Well, Moody was kind of taken aback by the boldness of the young fellow, but being a gracious gentleman, he said, "Well, when you come, we shall welcome you." About six months later, Mr. Moody in Chicago received a letter from the young fellow in New York City. The boy’s name was Harry Morehouse. And the lad, the young fellow wrote to Mr. Moody saying, "I’m in New York City. I will be in Chicago this coming Wednesday night, and I will preach for you."
Now you’d have to be a pastor to know the frustration of that. So he went to some of his deacons, and he said, "Brethren, I have to be gone. I have an engagement. And I don’t know what to think. So I’m going to turn the service over to you, and you let the young man – introduce him, and then you be prepared to continue the service and to say the concluding remarks." So Moody went on his way. The young fellow came. He was introduced. He preached on John 3:16. And the Spirit of God was in the service as the young man spoke about the love of God in Christ Jesus, and according to the habit of Moody, after the service was done, all who were interested were invited to stay. Nobody left.
Then the young fellow gave the invitation as he’d seen Moody do, and there were ten people saved that Wednesday night. Well, the deacons came up to him and said, "Would it be possible for you to preach to us tomorrow night, Thursday?" And the young man replied, "I’m in the city with nothing else to do. I shall be delighted." So, a bigger crowd came Thursday night. And when the young fellow extended the invitation, there were twenty people saved, preaching on the same text as he did the night before – John 3:16 and the love of Christ. The deacons said to him, "Could you stay tomorrow night and preach for us?" The young fellow replied, "I’m in the city with nothing else to do. I shall be happy." So Friday night they had the service, and the crowd was larger, and when he extended the appeal, there were thirty people saved, preaching on that same text, the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Saturday, Mr. Moody came back from his assignment. And his wife said to him, she said, "Dear, there is a great revival in our church." And Moody replied, "Why, I made no preparation for a revival." His wife said, "It is something God is doing." Well, Mr. Moody said, "Well, who’s leading it? I invited no one to come to lead in a revival." And his wife replied, "It’s that young man from Birmingham, England. Wednesday there were ten saved. Thursday, there were twenty saved. Friday, there were thirty saved. And the deacons have asked him to preach again tonight, Saturday night."
"Why," Moody said, "we never have services Saturday night."
"But the people asked, and he’s preaching tonight." Then she added, "And dear, I hope you’re converted." It was that last remark that got him. "Why," Moody thought, "I’ve been preaching twenty years, and she says to me, ‘I hope you’re converted.’" Moody says in this autobiography, he says, "I went to church that night, and sat on the front row with a critical eye and a critical spirit, and the young fellow stood up there, and as he had the three nights before, he took the same text, John 3:16, and spoke about the love of God in Christ Jesus for a lost world." And Moody says, "My heart was strangely moved, and I understood what my wife meant."
After the service – and there were more than a dozen saved that night – he asked the young man to preach for him the next day, which was Sunday. And the young fellow replied, "I’m in the city with nothing else to do. I shall be happy to preach." So, he stood up Sunday morning and took the same text and preached from John 3:16, the love of God for a lost world. And Moody says that for six weeks, every night for six weeks, that young man stood there in that pulpit and preached from John 3:16.
Then Moody says, "It turned my life. For heretofore, I had been preaching," he said, "on the Mt. Sinai side of Calvary, the wrath of God and the judgment of God. But after that conversion, I began to preach on the Mt. Zion side of Calvary." God’s love for us, God’s mercy to us, God’s grace extended to us.
And you know, the reason that it made such a profound impression upon my own heart is this: there’s no doubt but that we ought to be told about our sins, and we ought to be reminded of the judgment day, and we ought to be preached to about the wrath of God – but sweet people, I hardly need reminding about my sins, I know them, and I hardly need to be preached to about the judgment of God, I know I face it – what I need most of all is help, and encouragement, and grace, and promise of forgiveness. Man, I know I’m lost without Jesus, and I’m a sinner, vile in the sight of the holy God. But is there such a thing as God’s pity, and God’s grace, and God’s forgiveness? Does God care anything about us? And is He sympathetic with us, and does He understand us?
Well, that’s what Moody learned, and that’s why it made such an impression upon me. The breadth – that you might comprehend with all the saints experientially – the breadth of the love of God, and the length of the love of God, that He gave His only begotten Son, the extent to which He loved us [Ephesians 3:18]. Now I want you to look at that just for a moment. Our greatest gifts are never monetary or material. Our greatest gifts would always be of the soul and of the heart. You see that in your own life all the time by the value we place upon little things far beyond their actual worth. Maybe a baby picture and a little face up there in heaven. But it’s so precious to you, just a little picture, or maybe a lock of hair. You know, I could easily imagine, I could easily understand a man saying, "I own fifty million stars, and I own a thousand planets. And I have deeded to me a million oceans and a hundred continents and a thousand mountain ranges. But I’d give it all, I’d give it all, if I could have my boy back again who was killed in the war." I could imagine that, for somehow, stars, and planets, and mountain ranges, and oceans, and continents, are just as nothing, compared to the inward love that we feel toward somebody like a child.
That’s what the length of God’s love is: that He gave His only begotten Son; the Lord gave Himself, His heart, His grace, His love, His soul, His blood incarnate for us – that He gave His only begotten Son; the length to which God did go that we might be saved [John 3:6]. And that is a wonderful thing. For these things of our faith are never defined in terms of materialities, but always in terms of the heart and of the soul.
When I was in Kentucky driving from Louisville down to Bowling Green, to my little church at Oakland, I would often, often pass through Hodgenville. Hodgenville is a little Kentucky knob country town, rough country town, in a wilderness part of the country. And there is a beautiful monument, a beautiful one, built over the little log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born. It’s worth going to see. He speaks there of – here’s a sentence, "All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln."
Well, when you go inside, you’ll be surprised. That cabin is hardly larger than that communion table. It is small, small, small beyond what you would have thought for. It is tiny. And I can imagine a man walking in that beautiful marble edifice, and he looks at that cabin, and he says, "What a little home." Well, it depends on the emphasis you give it. "What a little home." That’s right. But let’s change it. "What a little home," but an emphasis on the home, for he was born of godly Baptist parents. His father, Tom Lincoln, and his mother, Nancy Hanks, they were godly people. And the boy grew up as a lad in the circle of a godly home. And when I look at that, the beautiful marble, it is a tremendously impressive monument, and over – it faces south – and over the portico, up at the frieze, is written the word of his second inaugural address, "With malice toward none, with charity for all." Oh, that’s just magnificent, that marble monument!. But what is of value is not the marble edifice, it was the home in which the boy was born and the godly parents, under which he grew up as a child, and the memory of his sainted mother whom he calls, "My angel mother."
This is God. Out of all that He has bestowed upon us, the worlds and all the fullness thereof, His greatest love is expressed in the coming and the gift of His only begotten Son into this world, that He gave His only begotten Son.
Now, the depths of God’s love that "whosoever believeth in Him should not perish" [John 3:16], the reaching down of God’s love: it is very easy for us to love people who are graciously kind to us. They’re charming, they’re gifted. They are affluent. They are however else. And we’re all that way. We cannot help but respond to nice people who are nice to us. But the Christian faith is ultimately in another world. Not that we are ever to be unkind to those who are kind to us, or forgetful of their generous goodnesses to us, but how do you respond and how do you feel about these who are – and then you can describe them? They are dirty. They are filthy. They are poor. They are ignorant. They are sometimes vile. They are unappreciative. You can just describe the seamy side and the fallen nature of humanity when you see what goes on in this world.
How convenient it is to gather our robes around us and say, "Let them die in their filth, and let them be damned in their sin. I have more pleasant things to do." And we drive off to the green pastures, and we leave the sodden city, and just try to forget and blot out all of that violent, and criminal, and darkened, and damned, and lost humanity. Dear people, I’m not preaching to you. I’m preaching to me; I don’t accuse you of that. I’m just saying, I’m that way; the dirty, ugly side of humanity is not appealing to me. I don’t like it. I don’t like filth. I don’t like dirt. I don’t like sin. I don’t like violence. I don’t like crime. I don’t like drunkenness.
I love being with good people, nice people, clean people, saved people. I love being with them. But as I preach to myself, I must not forget that it was not just for the nice and the charming and the gifted that Christ died. He also died for the damned, and the lost, and the darkened, and the dirty, and the filthy, and the untaught, and the ignorant. I must remember that. God help me to do it. And God help me to respond in a generous way, ever to be kind, and forgiving, and sympathetic, and generous, and sharing. I must, for God is like that.
There is a man who listened to me preach one time, after I came back from Nigeria. I had gone with him in a great arc to what he called "clan settlements." He was a missionary doctor sent out by our Foreign Mission Board, and he had gathered the lepers, all through that great arc in Nigeria. He had gathered them into clan settlements. They didn’t use the word leper colonies, clan settlements. And they were here, and then they were there, and there, and there, and there, and there, and there, and in a great arc. And he would visit them once a month. All the way, day after day, once a month, he’d follow that great arc. Asking me if I wanted to go, I said, "Oh, I’d love to." So, I went along with him in his little Austin, his little English car. It was, at that time, a British colony. And day after day, all day long, from morning till night, I was with him as he ministered to those lepers.
You see their culture and their religion push the leper out. Did you know little children have leprosy just as older people have leprosy? There’s no age group, little children, teenagers, old men and women, fathers and mothers, and their culture in Nigeria pushed them out and pushed them out to die. If they starved to death, if wild animals ate them, if they died of exposure that was their culture. But our faith has in it a different refrain. And the Christian doctor had gathered all those lepers up in this area and brought them to that clan settlement and here and there and all through. And as I’d watch him minister to them, the dirtiest people, the filthiest people, the most ignorant people, and diseased now with leprosy – all of their fingers fallen off, all of their toes fallen off, their ears fallen off, and those horrible nodules all over their bodies. Ah! but lovingly and tenderly and in Jesus’ name, that doctor there ministering to them, binding up their wounds and their sores and their abscesses and the rottenness of their flesh, just like a living death; just so tenderly, kindly, and while he’s ministering to them, talking to them about Jesus and how the Lord loved them, and how He sent this missionary doctor to tell them about the good news of God in Christ Jesus.
One of the men, listening to me on that report, sent over there and got one of those black men and is educating him here in America to be a physician to go back to Nigeria. That’s the love of God, and that’s the depths of it, to lift us up, to raise us up:
From sinking sand, He lifted me.
With tender hand, He lifted me.
From shades of night to plains of light,
Oh – bless His name! – praise His name, He lifted me.
[Charles H. Gabriel, "He Lifted Me"]
And the last and the fourth: the height of the love of God, that He might save us to everlasting life [John 3:16]. Without controversy, the Christian faith raises us up. It lifts up our hearts. It lifts up our faces. It lifts up our souls. It lifts up our lives. There is an heavenliness in the love of God that is elevating, inspiring – beyond all things, precious, God-blessed. That He might save us to everlasting life; there’s a place in heaven for us. There’s a place at the marriage feast of the Lamb reserved for us [Revelation 19:6-9]. There’s a place in the heavenly city of God, the New Jerusalem for us [Revelation 21:1-3]. Jesus called it a mansion [John 14:1-3]. There’s a place in the great, praiseworthy throngs, who sing to Him and worship Him [Revelation 5:8-4; 15:3-4]. There’s a place in that throng for us. O Lord, don’t let me miss it.
When the redeemed of God are gathered round the great throne, and the King of glory comes in, Lord let me be in that number, looking across Jordan into the Promised Land.
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wistful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where our possessions lie.
Oh, who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the Promised Land.
O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.
Oh, who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the Promised Land.
["On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand"; Samuel Stennett]
And that’s our invitation to your soul today. "Pastor, I want to be included in that number that loves God, and I’m coming to accept Him as my Savior." Or, "I want to put my life with the people of the Lord in the fellowship of this dear church." Maybe just you, maybe you and your wife, maybe you and your family, "Pastor, we’re all coming today." Do it now. Make it now. In the balcony round, there’s a stairway at the front and at the back, on either side, and there’s time and to spare. Gather the little flock together and come, or just a couple, or just you. Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up singing the song, stand up walking down that stairway, or coming down that aisle. I’ll be standing here to this side of our communion table. Come to me there. "Pastor, I give you my hand, I’ve given my heart to the Lord." Or, "We’ve decided to put our lives with these dear people in this precious church, and we’re on the way." Do it now. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
GOD’S LOVE IN FOUR DIMENSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Ephesians 3:18, John 3:16
I. Introduction (Ephesians 3:14-21)
A. God’s love is boundless, infinite
B. Truth so great it is difficult to believe
1. Nature seems to contradict it
2. Cruel humanity so harsh
C. Paul says it "passeth knowledge"
1. The words of Paul and the clauses of the golden text
II. The breadth of His love – "God so loved the world"
A. "World" used three ways in New Testament
1. Ge – dirt and substance
2. Oikoumene – the inhabited world, the people
3. Kosmos – the whole creation (Romans 8:21)
B. Preaching of Harry Moorhouse
III. The length of His love – "That He gave His only begotten Son"
A. Most precious gifts are not monetary or material, but of the heart and soul
B. The Lord gave Himself, God incarnate
IV. The depth of His love – "That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish"
A. It was not just for the nice, good and clean that He died
1. Also died for the damned, lost, darkened and dirty
B. Clan settlements – leper colonies
V. The height of His love – "Have everlasting life"
A. Christian faith raises us up
B. There is a place for us