The Lovingkindness of God
by JOHN WARBURTON - Preached at Gower Street Chapel, London on Lord's day evening, April 8th, 1855
I. Here we see the lovingkindness of God the Father in the choice of His people, that it originated in His sovereign, discriminating love, and that this love was so strong and enduring that it is from everlasting to everlasting upon those on whom it is fixed. We notice also the lovingkindness of God the Father, in providing and preparing all blessings in His beloved Son, for the supplying, the supporting, the refreshing, the delivering, and reviving of His people in their journey in this wilderness below; that there is not one blessing, for body or soul, but comes freely from God as a sovereign gift. We notice, in the third place, that the lovingkindness of God the Father is revealed in the Scriptures; that He has there revealed Himself; and that He has provided and prepared an home for His dear people, when all their tribulations, and griefs, and sorrows are ended; that they shall never have one more than He has appointed, and never one less; that all is fixed, and certain, and sure; and that He will bring them at last through much tribulation to enter into the kingdom of God. My friends, this is lovingkindness!
II. We may now take notice of the lovingkindness of the Son of God co-equal with the Father, "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person." (Heb. 1:3)
1. O what wondrous, glorious lovingkindness shines forth in the Son of God in doing the work for His peoplein finishing and completing the work for His people. Are there works to be done? Yes; never will any mortal enter heaven that does not enter there by God's work, as well as by grace. "O," say you, "I thought you folks would never talk about good works entering into heaven." O yes, we do! Heaven receives good works and heaven approves of good works; but not works that are good in the eyes of flesh and blood. The very law of God requires good works; and it is utterly impossible for a just God to smile upon a sinful creature without them. God is a just God; He cannot acquit the guilty." (Num. 14:18) What lovingkindness, then, was it in the Son of God in condescending, out of mere sovereign, free, divine pleasure and love, to enter into covenant, and there to engage to come and be responsible for the sinner; to stand in his stead; to be his head, his bondsman; to take all debts upon Himself, and clothe him with His own righteousness! Is not this lovingkindness, my friends? Did anything in our nature move the Son of God to come and manifest such lovingkindness as this? No, no; it is of His own sovereign, divine grace; and therefore it was certified of Him in prophecy, "Offerings and burnt offerings thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me; and lo, I come to do thy will, O God." (Ps. 40:6-8; Heb. 10:5-7) Here is lovingkindness stepping forward to come and do the work that we had neither the will nor the power to do, but which He, out of sovereign, discriminating grace, engaged to do. And therefore He comes in the form of a man; and the apostle says, that "he was made sin for us, who knew no sin," (2 Cor. 5:21) having all the sins of His chosen imputed to His charge."
Shall you and I ever fathom the depths, or comprehend the height and breadth, or have an adequate idea of the glory and the length of this lovingkindness? It is the love of Christ which is beyond words ever to express and hearts ever to feel. He comes, and is born of a virgin; and here He is, as a child born and a son given. He bore the transgressions of His people, bore them all upon the tree, suffered the just for the unjust. (1 Pet. 3:18) The justice of God had no pity upon His cries and groans; for He had engaged to be the Bondsman and Surety, bound himself by covenant bonds, and this not with reluctance, but with pleasure and delight, for He said His delight was with the sons of men. (Prov. 8:31) The apostle sums it all up when He says, "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God." (Heb. 12:2) It was His delight to do completely the work for His people, that love, justice, and righteousness, and every perfection of Deity might meet together in perfect harmony. O what lovingkindness is this! You are not saved because of your good deeds, nor for any good works that you can do, but because of the lovingkindness of the Son of God, in performing and completing the work. And it is done in such a way, that neither law, nor justice, nor righteousness, nor sin, nor men, nor devils, nor death, nor hell, nor all put together, can break or destroy it! It is out of the reach of them all; and therefore has He told us that "Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation, and shall never be ashamed nor confounded, world without end." (Isa. 45:17) "Yea," says Paul, "by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14) Therefore, He was called Jesus, because He should save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21) The law honoured in Him, justice is satisfied; and therefore it can be sweetly said, "Deliver them from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom, saith the Lord." (Job 33:24)
It is lovingkindness and tender mercy in the Son of God, in doing the work for His people, in going before them, in saving them from hell, from sin, from the law, from divine justice; so that the Father is now well pleased in Him, and can say, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." (Matt. 17:5) The apostle says, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." (Rom. 8:33,34) He ever liveth to make intercession for all who come unto God by Him; and no one can come to God aright in any other name. (Heb. 7:25; Acts 4:12) God teaches them that there is no other name, and no other way; therefore they are brought into this way by God's blessed Spirit, and receive all the blessings that are treasured up in Jesus Christ the Lord.
2. The Son of God not only saves His people from law and justice, and from going down to the pit, but He saves them from all their enemies. He has conquered them all. There is not a single one that can ever molest the child of God, that He has not met and battled with as their Head. He has gone before them; He has led the way; He has "borne their griefs and carried their sorrows." (Isa. 53:4) There is not a temptation of the devil that He has not gone through and overcome; He has had all his fiery darts and all his blasphemous suggestions hurled at Him; but Satan could not find a place for them to enter in.
Some child of God here may be tempted with blasphemous suggestions, and is drawing the conclusion that he must be nothing but a reprobate. He is afraid he has sinned against the Holy Ghosthe is so tempted to blaspheme the Spirit of God; God seems to have given him up entirely, and he feels as if he must blaspheme Him. O poor soul! But can you do it? "O," says the soul, "I am afraid I shall!" But have you done it yet? Does not your soul burn against it and ache over it? Is not your soul crying to God to deliver you from it? It is the devil that is pouring these awful blasphemies against the Spirit, and not your soul; and the devil will have the punishment of it for ever.
Do not look then upon the temptations of Satan as a sign of being given up; the Son of God Himself was tempted in all points like unto His brethren, (Heb. 4:15) that He might succour those that are tempted. You hate the suggestion, and are trying to oppose it; it is not your own will and your own soul that is making it; it is sin and the devil dwelling in your heart. And here what God says: "No temptation shall happen to thee but what is common to man; and he will with the temptation make a way of escape." (1 Cor. 10:13) Now, the Lord has done His work; He has conquered Satantrampled upon himand His brethren shall trample upon him too; but they must have the same trials, in the measure that they can bear them; for He says they must be baptized with the same baptism that He was baptized with, and partake of the same sufferings. Therefore there is a time when they shall be delivered, as there was a time when the Son of God was delivered. He was forty days and forty nights under the conflict; but He conquered at last, and was brought forth into Judea with tidings of joy and peace.
3. The Son of God has grappled with death. He has gone with all the sins of the church to face death; the sting of death entered into His heart, and He drew it out again; and now death is a friend to the child of God, for the Saviour has conquered "death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." (Heb. 2:14) All this was done in lovingkindness! And He has ascended up on high, having finished the work, conquered every foe, satisfied every particle of the demands of justice; He has gone there, and is now surrounded with glorious majesty. He went up as a conqueror, with the sound of the trumpet; as it is said, "God went up with a shout, and with the sound of a trumpet." "Open ye the gates, and let the King of Glory come in. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord mighty in battle," (Isa. 26:2; Ps. 24:8) that has conquered all His foes, redeemed His church, satisfied every perfection of Deity. Child of God; He is thy Head; and thou, virtually united with Him, went up with Him virtually into glory. You ascend up on high, and are there virtually seated with Him, until He brings you home at last, one glorious man, perfect in Christ Jesus the Lord. What lovingkindness! O, would to God this sweet blessing were fully revealed in every contrite heart, and that the Comforter would bring the light, and power, and glory of it into our souls!
III. The lovingkindness of the Holy Ghost is equal with the lovingkindness of the Father and the Son; for He, the Father, and the Son, are one God. Some people wonder, my dear friends, how this can be; but we have nothing at all to do with the hows; it is what God reveals that we have to do with. The children of God prove by the testimony of their consciences, that what God reveals is true: "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one."
1. What lovingkindness then in God the Holy Ghost, in revealing Christ to us, in taking of the things of God, and bringing them home to souls. It is as much the work of God to do this as the creation of the animal and vegetable world was the work of God. It is as much the work of God to reveal in the heart of His chosen these grand truths in all their power as ever it was for God to speak us into being; for His chosen in a state of nature are dead, like the rest of the world. They have no more feeling or desire for spiritual blessings than the four-footed beasts. They are "dead in trespasses and sins;" and nothing short of the lovingkindness of God the Holy Ghost can quicken them or bring them to life.
The apostle gives this testimony concerning the elect, in the declaration he makes to the church at Ephesus: "You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world....the children of disobedience....and were by nature children of wrath, even as others. But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ. By grace are ye saved." (Eph. 2:1-5,8) Now, can any mortal ever overthrow this? What ground is there for argument and disputing? It is the work of the Holy Ghost, and that from His lovingkindness and sovereign pleasure. While the Father set His love upon His chosen, and the Son of God accomplished and completed the work of redemption for them, and honoured every perfection of Deity, the Holy Ghost, one with the Father and the Son, engaged to bring them to Him "in the day of his power," (Ps. 110:3) and all through sovereign, discriminating mercy and lovingkindness.
Now, are there not a good many of us here this evening that are living witnesses of this? Tell me, you that know anything about it, was there anything in you that merited God's kindness towards you, in stopping you in your mad career of sin, and saving you from going to hell? "No," says the soul; "of all wretches I think I was the worst; and had it not been for God's sovereign, discriminating grace, I had now been in the very state I was in, or else in hell, lifting up my eyes." It is all of His sovereign, discriminating grace; and every child of God that has this quickening life in his heart acknowledges this, and gives testimony to it that it was God that opened his eyes and stopped him in his mad career.
2. The lovingkindness of the Spirit of God has also been manifested in stripping the believer of his own righteousness. None can strip themselves of their own righteousness. Even the poor child of God, in all his troubles, let him have lived years and years, and proved his righteousness to have been nothing but filthy rags, yet he has got the working of it in his nature and thinks that he ought to do this and that and the other, and that it would be better for him, and that God would be more pleased and favoured by it. A just God is never pleased but in His beloved Son, who has done the work for His dear people, and completed it, and perfected it. He can only delight in them in His Son; and if they are in Him, they are one with the Father and the Son, and made perfect in one. But when the Holy Spirit comes and reveals to the child of God what God's righteous law demands, brings it home to his soul, reveals it to his heart, and gives him to understand that the law looks at the very thoughts and intents of the heart, and that the very "thought of foolishness is sin," and merits damnation for ever and ever,that law, he sees, is good and righteous; and he is brought to see that it demands nothing but what is right. Here then he is condemned, his mouth shut, and he is brought to feel that God is just in the sentence of damnation upon his soul, so that he can acquit Him of any unrighteousness, and can testify that "the law is just, holy, and good." (Rom. 7:12)
Now the Spirit of God breaks into his heart a real confession, and a real sighing and groaning unto the Lord Jesus Christ for deliverance, and gives him to see that there is no one but the Son of God that can relieve him. This is the work of the Spirit of God in the heart, in showing him that "there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12) but the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost, in His blessed lovingkindness, sometimes gives the soul a little encouragement; a little light breaks into the heart; he learns that Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save that which is lost; and he is lost, and so was Saul of Tarsus, and Mary Magdalene, and Manasseh, and thousands besides, and He saved them. There is such a plea put into his heart, that he cries, "O Lord, have mercy upon me! O bless me with a sense of pardoning love, do but speak to me, and tell me that Thou hast died for me, and hast finished salvation for me." The Holy Spirit then brings the soul to feel that His lovingkindness is teaching it to leave all the world, all professors, all the opinions of men, and all the books of men, and to come with wrestling, cries, tears, and prayers, unto Christ for salvation; and that there is no power upon earth that has anything to do with it but God and the soul itself.
Do you know anything of such teaching as this? This is what David was taught; this is what Paul was taught; this is what God's people of old were taught; and this is what God teaches His people now. For there never was a soul that came to Christ yet that was not drawn by the Father, never one that learned His glory and beauty that had not been to the school of the law to learn what his misery was, and to bring him to see his lost condition; for who can ever bless a physician, but the man that seemed at the point of death? Who can ever be thankful for water, but the man that is dried up and nearly killed with thirst? Who can ever prize bread and food, but the man that is hungry, and given it all up for lost for want of provisions? The lovingkindness of the blessed Spirit of God is seen then in stripping them.
3. But, there is the lovingkindness of the Holy Spirit manifested in the heart by the work of the law on the conscience of a child of God. It is fitting him for the lovingkindess; it will be made known manifestedly when he is brought to feel that there is nothing but damnation for him, and to fall down and cry to the Son of God to save him as an act of grace. If He condemn him, he feels that it is an act of justice, and down he falls; he throws himself on the Son of God, sink or swim, damned or saved; and there is no condemnation at the feet of the Son of God; for this is the work of the Holy Spirit, His lovingkindness. No human teaching can ever teach this. O no; it is the Spirit's teaching, and none can come and admire the blessed Redeemer but he to whom the Spirit reveals Him. "No man can call him Lord," his Lord, "my Lord, and my God," but by the Holy Ghost.
The testimony of the Spirit is necessary to give testimony to the heart of the blood, the righteousness, the beauty, and the glory of the Son of God, and to reveal Him in the Soul. The apostle says, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our heart, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6) Ah! What lovingkindness comes into the heart of a condemned sinner! When the Lord brought it first into my heart, I got out of the town as soon as ever I could into the fields, through a long wood; and the singing of the birds and the rustling of the leaves of the trees, the hills and the valleys, all seemed to be speaking of His glory; and I said, "Is this my God, my King, my Lord, that hath blotted out my transgressions like a cloud?" I thought He was going to send me to hell; and instead of this He has brought me up out of the depths of the pit, and raised me up from a beggar on a dunghill to sit amongst the princes of His people, to inherit everlasting glory. Ah! What lovingkindness! Blessings, blessings be upon Him!
4. There is the lovingkindness of the Spirit, in reviving,in teaching, in correcting, in reproving, in blessing the believer's soul with fresh light, fresh strength, fresh support, to guide and direct him through the wilderness over Jordan, and take him safe home to glory. His lovingkindness is in it; His delight is in it; His glory is in it. Therefore their souls are His temple, His house, His dwelling-place, His rest, and here He dwells; for He says where He has begun a good work He will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1:6) Nobody who knows these things can help worshipping the Holy Ghost as God. There is the Father who is God, the Son who is God, and the Holy Ghost who is God; yet are there not three Gods, but one God. And here is the mysterythe mystery that wisdom can never find out; but faith believes it, and love embraces it; and we have proved it in our hearts, and are daily proving it, for every revival is of the Spirit of God.
IV. Notice by way of conclusion David's prayer. "O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee." I do not think David means that there is any danger of the lovingkindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost not continuing. I do not think that David had a single idea of this in his prayer; but humanly speaking, it might appear as if he meant that the continuance of the lovingkindness might depend upon certain conditions, such as the creature performing his duty, and doing what he ought to do. But it was nothing of the kind. David's petition appears to me to mean simply this, or something comprehended in this: Continue thy lovingkindness in its visits to my soul, that I may have the visiting of thy lovingkindness unto my heart, to renew my soul again and again. For David, as well as every child of God, knew that the experience of God's people is not all sunshine and not all prosperity, and not all health, but that there is darkness, and night, and adversity, and wounds, and tribulations.
No, it is not all sunshine; the blessed Sun of Righteousness is sometimes hid behind the clouds, and darkness seizes the child of God; confusion of heart sometimes lays hold of him, and he begins to question what his religion is, how it began, what were the testimonies he had, and to fear that what seemed to be the work of the Spirit of God might be nothing but the work of the flesh; and his soul sinks, and his heart is sometimes so distracted that he falls down before God. But he is honest; his is an honest and upright heart, which is the work of grace; and when he seems stripped of every comfort, he falls down before His God, and says, "Lord, search me; search me and try me; I do not know what I am, I am so confused; I cannot tell whether my religion is the work of God, or whether I am only one of the stony-ground hearers. Here I am." And that soul cannot stir a hair's breadth till God moves him; neither can he look back to raise an Ebenezer unless the light of the Spirit of God brings it to his remembrance; but he cries to the Lord, and says, "Ah! Grant me another token for good, another revival of Thy lovingkindness in my heart! Oh! Continue the visits of Thy lovingkindness! I have no hope in myself, nor hope in man; give me another testimony of Thy lovingkindness; renew my soul, and bring me up again out of the depths, that I may have another testimony that Thy lovingkindness is still resting upon me."
It is now going on for sixty years since I first felt the lovingkindness of God, in delivering my soul from the curse of the law, and I have been muddling on ever since, and scores and hundreds of times have had the sweet testimony of lovingkindness in my heart, reviving me again and again. Yet I am as poor a creature as any one, and am as much shaken as ever when God withdraws His lovingkindness, and leaves poor old John and the devil by themselves. I tremble in my soul then, and I can but come again and again with my old tale; and God never wants anything else but old tales. And what are they? "God be merciful to me, a sinner." "Lord, teach me; Lord, instruct me; Lord, strengthen me! O give me just another testimony; give me just one more!"
I have often thought of Jonah, whether he carried it on to the day of his death; but when he sinks down into the belly of hell, he cries out, "Yet will I look again towards thy holy temple." The children of God in all their sinkings, will be looking for the lovingkindness of the Lord again the same lovingkindness that set them at liberty before, and brought peace and joy to them before. Some professors of religion, when they come to hear such things as these preached, say, "O dear me! What! Will folks run to hear that fellow? He has no variety about him." What sort of variety does a hungry man want? Why, some good food that he has tasted before, and proved and relished. What sort of variety does a thirsty man want? Why, the same water from the same spring that he has tried before. What sort of variety does the poor tired and fatigued man want? Why, his bed to rest upon that he has proved again and again. What sort of variety does a man want that is bowed down with a burden upon his back, and is faint and sinking? Why, he wants his burden removed again. These are the varieties that God's people that know God want. All the professors of religion, with all their judgment, and all their wisdom, and all their talk, and all their memory of Scripture, if they have nothing of this, depend upon it, there is no proof of the powerful teachings of the Spirit of God in their hearts. David says, "They that have no changes, fear not God."
God bless the few hints that have been delivered, for His name's sake.