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John Howe on John 3:16

November 18, 2007

All this we have in that most admirable text of Scripture, (John 3. 16.) “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” So loved! The matter is signified in such a way, as to leave all men amazed! and by their astonishment to supply their most detective conception of so stupendous a love. The world is an indefinite term, that contains the special and the afterwards specified object of this love; not a single person, but a whole race of intelligent creatures, a world inhabited by such, that were not to be left, and finally all swallowed up together in one common ruin; that upon this account he gave his only begotten Son to death, as the event and known design shewed. And how inconceivable must his love be to his only begotten Son! “The Brightness of his glory, the express Image of his person!” Always his Delight ! Yet rather than all this world should be lost for ever, He is thus given up! “That whosoever believe on him, should not perish, &c.” which expresses the certain, specified, declared object of this love: leaving them certainly excluded, who, after sufficient proposal, refuse their homage to the throne of Immanuel; choose rather their forlorn souls should be for ever forsaken of the divine presence, than unite with him, and surrender themselves to him, by whom alone they might be refitted, animated again, and inhabited as his living temples. Their exclusion is necessary, by such measures as those, by which such means were necessary to the salvation and blessedness of the others. But who can doubt hereupon, but that this course was indispensably necessary to this end? Especially if (reviewing that first-mentioned text) we consider, that our Lord represents his laying down his life as an un-expressible additional endearment of him to the Father: as if he should say, “O thou Son of my delights, thou hast now set my love to lost souls at liberty, that hath been ever pregnant with great and godlike designs towards them, and that must otherwise have been under perpetual restraint:” which is, [3.] Most evidently implied. But it may be said, Could the love of God be under restraint? And I say No, it could not; therefore to the all-comprehending Mind, where ends and means lie connected together under one permanent, eternal view, this course presented itself, as peculiarly accommodate to this end ; and was therefore eternally determined by easy concert between the Father and the Son, not to remedy, but prevent any such restraint. Yet it may be further urged, Cannot the absoluteness and omnipotency of a God enable him to satisfy his own propensions, if it were to save ever so many thousand worlds of offending creatures, without taking such a circuit as this? It was once said to a human mortal king, that had about him but a thin shadow of sovereignty, Dost thou now govern Israel, and not make thy will any way take place? Much more might it here be said, Dost thou govern the world? Art thou not God? Yes ! and may freely say, I can the less, for that I am. God, do what is not Godlike; that is, can therefore the less break through established, eternal measures, and counteract myself. I must do as becomes Him, for whom and by whom are all things. Others may assume to themselves an imagined, unhallowed liberty of pursuing, at the next, their own inclinations; but it is beneath divine greatness to do so. Yet in this case (it may be further said) why did not love to his Son preponderate? Which our Lord himself in great part obviates by what is subjoined ” because I lay down my life;” how? With a power and design to take it again, as v.18. “I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again: this is a matter agreed. I am not to lie under a perpetual death; that could neither be grateful to my Father, nor is in itself possible. But as things are stated, I am prepared to endure the cross, and despise the shame, for the joy set before me; which joy will be everlastingly common to him and me, and to the whole redeemed community, according to their measure.” But was all this unnecessary trifling? What serious man’s reverence of Deity can let him endure to harbour so profane a thought! Therefore take we now the entire state of this matter, as it lies plainly in view before us, in these texts of Scripture : first, here is an unexpressible love of God to undone, lost sinners: secondly, here is a plain intimation that this love must have been under a suspension and restraint, if God’s own Son had not laid down his life for them: thirdly, it is as plainly signified, that the Son of God’s laying down his life for them, was, in divine estimate, a sufficient expedient to prevent this restraint upon his love to sinners…

John Howe, “The Living Temple,” in Works, 1:390-391.

Credit to Tony.

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