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James Saurin on John 3:16

June 25, 2008

VII. But finally, the goodness of God must agree with his veracity. I mean that although the many Scripture-images of the goodness of God are imperfect, and must not be literally understood, they must, however, have a real sense and meaning. Moreover, I affirm, that the grandeur of the original is not at all diminished, but on the contrary, that our ideas of it are very much enlarged, by purifying and retrenching the images that represent it; and this we are obliged to do on account of the eminence of the divine perfections. And here, my brethren, I own I am involved in the most agreeable difficulty that can be imagined; and my mind is absorbed in an innumerable multitude of objects, each of which verifies the proposition in the text. I am obliged to pass by a world of proofs and demonstrations. Yes, I pass by the firmament with all its stars, the earth with all its productions, the treasures of the sea and the influences of the air, the symmetry of the body, the charms of society, and many other objects, which in the most elegant and pathetic manner, preach the Creator’s goodness to us. Those grand objects which have excited the astonishment of philosophers, and filled the inspired writers with wonder and praise, scarcely merit a moment’s attention to day. I stop at the principal idea of the prophet. We have before observed, that the term which is rendered pity in the text, is a vague word, and is often put in Scripture forth the goodness of God in general; however, we must ac knowledge, that it most properly signifies the disposition of a good parent, who is inclined to show mercy to his son, when he is become sensible of his follies, and endeavors by new effusions of love to re-establish the communion that his disobedience had interrupted: this is certainly the principal idea of the prophet. Now who can doubt, my brethren, whether God possesses the reality of this image in the most noble, the most rich, and the most eminent sense? Wouldst thou be convinced, sinner, of the truth of the declaration of the text? Wouldst thou know the extent of the mercy of God to poor sinful men? Consider then, 1. The victim that he has substituted in their stead. 2. The patience which he exercises towards them. 3. The crimes that he pardons. 4. The familiar friendship to which invites them. And 5. The rewards that he bestows on them. Ah! ye tender fathers, ye mothers who seem to be all love for your children, ye whose eyes, whose hearts, whose perpetual cares and affections are concentred in them, yield, yield to the love of God for his children, and acknowledge that God only knows how to love!

Let us remark, 1. The sacrifice that God has substituted in the sinner’s stead. One of the liveliest and most emphatical expressions of the love of God, in my opinion, is that in the gospel of St. John. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” ch. iii. 16. Weigh these words, my brethren, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” Metaphysical ideas begin to grow into disrepute, and I am not surprised at it. Mankind have such imperfect notions of substances, they know so little of the nature of spirits, particularly, they are so entirely at a loss in reasoning on the Infinite Spirit, that we need not be astonished if people retire from a speculative track in which the indiscretion of some has made great mistakes. Behold a sure system of metaphysics. Convinced of the imperfection of all my know ledge, but particularly of my discoveries of the being and perfections of God, I consult the sacred oracles, which God has published, in order to obtain right notions of him. I immediately perceive that God, in speaking of himself, has proportioned his language to the weakness of men, to whom he has addressed his word. In this view, I meet with no difficulty in explaining those passages in which God says, that he has hands or feet, eyes or heart, that he goes or comes, ascends or descends, that he is in some cases pleased, and in others provoked.

Yet I think, it would be a strange abuse of this notion of Scripture, not to understand some constant ideas literally; ideas which the Scriptures give us of God, and on which the system of Christianity partly rests. I perceive, and I think very clearly, that the Scriptures constantly speak of a being, a person, or if I may speak so, a portion of the divine essence, which is called the Father, and another that is called the Son.

I think I perceive, with equal evidence in the same book, that between these two per sons, the Father and the Son, there is the closest and most intimate union that can be imagined. What love must there be between these two persons, who have the same perfections and the same ideas, the same purposes and the same plans? What love must subsist between two persons, whose union is not interrupted by any calamity without, by any passion within, or, to speak more fully still, by any imagination?

With equal clearness I perceive, that the man Jesus, who was born at Bethlehem, and was laid in a manger, was in the closest union with the Word, that is, with the Son of God; and that in virtue of this union the man Jesus is more beloved of God than all the other creatures of the universe.

No less clearly do I perceive in Scripture, that the man Jesus, who is as closely united to the Eternal Word, as the word is to God, was delivered for me, a vile creature, to the most ignominious treatment, to sufferings the most painful, and the most shameful, that were ever inflicted on the meanest and basest of man kind.

And when I inquire the cause of this great mystery, when I ask, Why did the Almighty God bestow so rich a present on me? Especially when I apply to revelation for an explication of this mystery, which reason cannot fully explain, I can find no other cause than the compassion of God.

Let the schools take their way, let reason lose itself in speculations, yea, let faith find it difficult to submit to a doctrine, which has always appeared with an awful solemnity to those who have thought and meditated on it; for my part, I abide by this clear and astonishing, but at the same time, this kind and comfortable proposition, ” God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” When people show us Jesus Christ in the garden, sweating great drops of blood; when they speak of his trial before Caiaphas and Pilate, in which he was interrogated, insulted, and scourged; when they present him to our view upon mount Calvary, nailed to a cross, and bowing beneath the blows of heaven and earth; when they require the reason of these formidable and surprising phenomena, we will answer, It is because God loved mankind; it is because ” God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.”

Extracted from, “The Compassion of God,” by James Saurin in, Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 89-90.

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