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George Swinnock on John 3:16 and God’s Love to Sinners

July 15, 2008

Hast thou never beheld a condemned prisoner dissolved into tears, upon the unexpected and unmerited receipt of a pardon, who all the time before was as hard as a flint? The hammer of the law may break the icy heart of man with terrors and horror, and yet it may remain ice still, unchanged; but when the fire of love kindly thaws its ice, it is changed and dissolved into water it is no longer ice, but of another nature. Where the sun is most predominant, there are the sweetest spices, the richest mines, and the costliest jewels. Do thou therefore meditate much on the love of God and Christ to thy unworthy soul: think what love is it that still spares thee, notwithstanding all thy God-daring and soul damning provocations, and that when others, probably better than thyself, are every day and night sent to that place, where God hath large interest for his long patience. What love is it, not only to forbear thee, but also to do thee good! Thou his enemy art hungry, he feeds thee; thou art thirsty, he gives thee drink. If a man find his enemy, will he let him go? 1 Sam. xxiv. 19. But lo, God finds thee every moment. As all thy sins are within the reach of his eye, so thou thyself art continually within the reach of his arm ; he can as easily turn thee into hell, as tell thee of hell: and yet he lets thee go, and more than that, does thee good. Thou spends every hour upon the stock of mercy. God is at great charge and much cost in continuing meat and drink, and health and strength, and time which thou dost ravel out, and wanton away unprofitably.

What love was that in the Father which sent his own Son to die, that thou might live! Well might the beloved disciple say, God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life, John iii. 16. In this the bowels of divine love are naked, as in an anatomy : in other things the love of God is as the beams of the sun scattered, which are warm and comfortable; but in this it is as the beams of the sun united in a burning glass, hot, fiery, burning love. God so loved the world, so dearly, so entirely, so incomparably, so infinitely: it is a sic without a sicut, as one observes a pattern which can never be paralleled. In this God commended his love towards us, in that when we were sinners Christ died for us, Rom. v. 8. When God sent his Son into the world, he did, as it were, say to him, My dear Son, thou Son of my chief love and choicest delight, go to the wicked, unworthy world, commend me to them, and tell them, that in thee I have sent them such a love-token, such an unquestionable testimony of my favor and good-will towards them, that hereafter they shall never have the least color of reason to suspect my love, or to say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Mal. i. 2.

What love was that in the Son of God, which moved him to be come the Son of man, that thou might become the son of God! What love was that which made him so willingly undergo the scorns, and flouts, and derisions of wretched men, the rage, and malice, and assaults of ravenous devils, the wrath and fury of a righteous God; such pangs and tortures in his body as no mouth can express, such sorrows and horror in his soul as no mind can conceive; and all that thou might escape such misery, and obtain everlasting mercy! Greater love than this hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friend, John xv. 13. The passion of Christ was the greatest evidence of his affection. The laying down of life did abundantly proclaim his love. His love before was like wine in a cask, hardly seen; but oh how did it sparkle and cast its color in the glass of his sufferings! This diamond, before hid in the shell, doth shine radiantly in the ring of his death. If his tears did so much speak his love to Lazarus, that the Jews who saw him weeping, cried out, Lo, how he loved him! surely his heart-blood doth far more demonstrate his love to his members. They that beheld him bleeding in the garden, had far more reason to say, Look, lo how he loved his!

What love is that which did all this for such a worm as thou art such a sinner, such a rebel? what would God lose if thou wert eternally lost? the least tittle of his happiness would not be diminished. This sun is no loser when men shut their eyes, and will not behold its light; what gains God, if he gain thee to himself, to his service? thou canst not add the least cubit to the stature of his perfections. The refreshment is to men, not to the spring, when the weary passengers drink of it. He doth not command thee to repent from any need he hath of thee, but from the pity lie hath to thee. He entreats thee to return, not that he may be blessed and happy, but that he may be bountiful and liberal in bestowing on thee those blessings which accompany salvation. Methinks the apprehension of God’s great love and goodness should have such an impression on thee as to make thee little and low in thine own thoughts. Is it not a wonder that God should vouchsafe a gracious look upon such a clod of earth, a piece of clay, as thou art? but what admiration can answer this love and condescension, that God should wait and entreat to lift thee up, who would cast him down? that an emperor should sue to a traitor ; that majesty should thus stoop to misery; that the Lord of life and glory should prepare for thee exceeding rich and precious promises, a crown of life, a purchased possession, and beseech thee to accept of them! Were thy heart never such hard metal, one would think that such a hot fire of burning love should melt it. I have in two or three authors read of five men that met together, and asked each other what means they used to abstain from sin? The first said, the thoughts of the certainty of death, and uncertainty of the time, moved him to live every day as if it were his last day. The second said, he meditated of the day of judgment, and the torments of hell, and they frighted him from meddling with his dangerous enemy, sin. The third considered of the deformity of sin, and beauty of holiness. The fourth, of the abundant happiness provided in heaven for holy ones. The last continually thought of the Lord Jesus Christ and his love, and this made him ashamed to sin against God. Reader, if thou hast but any ingenuity, the abuse of such love and kindness should work upon thee. Some say, the blood of a goat will soften an adamant; shall not then the blood of this true goat dissolve thy adamantine heart? Beasts themselves have been won by kindness, and wilt thou be worse than a beast, that such philanthropy and kindness of God shall no whit stir thee or humble thee?

There is a twofold necessity of a deep, serious humiliation, for which cause I have been the more large upon it, though indeed I have added very much more than I first intended, in order to the two next directions which I shall prescribe thee.

First, In order to thy hearty acceptation of Jesus Christ. Humiliation is like John Baptist, to prepare the way of Christ before him. Christ will not be a Savior to them that do not set a high valuation upon him ; now an unhumbled sinner is a man conceitedly whole, seeing no need of, and therefore setting.

First, In order to thy hearty acceptation of Jesus Christ. Humiliation is like John Baptist, to prepare the way of Christ before him. Christ will not be a Saviour to them that do not set a high valuation upon him; now an unhumbled sinner is a man conceitedly whole, seeing no need of, and therefore setting little price upon, the physician of souls. Till men see that they are cast by the law of God, and condemned men, they will never heartily desire and value a psalm of mercy. According to a man’s sense of misery, such is his estimation of mercy. When Paul saw himself the chief of sinners, then that saying, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, was worthy of all acceptation, 1 Tim. i. 15. This sharp sauce of repentance doth commend Christ exceedingly unto the spiritual palate. The more bitter and irksome sin is, the more sweet and welcome Jesus Christ will be to the soul. When the sinner seeth that he is lost in him self, then, and not till then, will he truly request to be found in Christ; the prodigal did not prize the bread in his father’s house till he was ready to perish for hunger. Ministers preach much of the infinite excellencies that are in Christ, of the unspeakable misery of sinners without Christ, of the absolute necessity that men and women stand in of Christ, and yet preach to little pu pose. Most prize their shops and their lands, their relations, yea, and their sensual lusts, above the Lord Jesus, notwithstanding all their pretences to the contrary; they see no such need of him, nor such worth in him, as the preachers and Scriptures speak of. What is the reason of it? truly this, they were never sensible of the stings of the fiery serpents; if they had, they would look up to the brazen serpent with an eye of greater respect. They were never pricked to the heart, and therefore cry not out, Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved? But when God discovers his wrath to the soul, and shuts the soul up under it; when he commands conscience in his name to arrest the soul for all its debts which it owes to divine justice; and when, in pursuance thereof, conscience doth, in the name of the dreadful God, charge on the sinner the guilt of all his sins, and hales him to the judgment-seat of God, where he sees nothing but frowns and fury, fire and brimstone, and feels nothing but tribulation and anguish, indignation and wrath; now the sinner cries out in bitterness of spirit, wretched, miserable man, alas, alas! I am undone! What desperate madness possessed my soul, thus to provoke the almighty God by my sins? Into what a sea of misery have I brought myself by mine iniquities! The God whom I see is angry; the wrath which I feel is heavy; the torments which I fear are infinite; the law which shews no mercy is violated; the God who will have full satisfaction for the breach of his law is incensed; conscience, which is his jailer, is commissionated to wound and terrify me, and whither shall I go.

There is wrath above me, wrath below me, wrath without me, wrath within me, wrath round about me. A world, mark now, for a surety to discharge me of these debts ; a thousand worlds for that balm which can heal this wounded conscience; ten thousand thousand worlds for a Jesus that can deliver from the wrath to come. When sin comes to be sin indeed, then, and not till then, a Savior will be a Savior indeed…

Extracted from: George Swinnock, Heaven and Hell Epitomised (Edinburgh: James Nicol, 1868), 3:342-346. [Some spelling modernized.]

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