Sunday, November 22, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” - John 3:16
My text is “The Most Wonderful Sentence That Was Ever Written.” Of course that sentence is in the Bible. All the greatest sentences that were ever written are found in one book, God’s Word, the Bible. The Bible is a book that abounds in illuminating, stirring, startling, marvelous, bewildering, amazing, and life-transforming utterances, utterances with which there is absolutely nothing to compare in all the other literature of the world. But I am inclined to think that the one we are to consider tonight is the most remarkable of them all. I think that after we have given it careful thought you will agree with me that this sentence is the most wonderful that was ever written.
You are all perfectly familiar with it. I doubt if there is a person in this audience who has not heard it again and again. Indeed our very familiarity with it has blinded many of us to the wonderful character of it and the stupendous significance of it. But we are going to look at it steadily and closely, turning it around and around - as one would turn around and scrutinize a diamond of unusual purity, beauty, brilliance, and play of prismatic colors - until its beauty, its profundity, its glory, its sublimity, and its amazing significance are more fully seen and appreciated by us.
The sentence is found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” There are whole volumes of incomparably precious truth packed into that one sentence. Indeed many volumes have been devoted to the exposition of that one verse, but it is not exhausted vet and never will be. These marvelous words of God never become hackneyed or worn out or wearisome. We are always beholding new beauty and new glory in them. When all the millions of volumes that men have written in man languages throughout the many centuries of literary history have become obsolete and are forgotten, that imperishable sentence shall shine out in its matchless beauty and peerless glory throughout the endless ages of eternity.
Let me repeat it again. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God Himself has used that statement to save thousands of souls, to lift men out of the sad - yes, appalling - ruin that sin had wrought into the glory of likeness to Himself. I trust that He may use it tonight to save many more.
The verse tells us five exceedingly important facts. First, God’s attitude toward the world; second, God’s attitude toward sin; third, God’s attitude toward His Son; fourth, God’s attitude toward all who believe in His Son; fifth, God’s attitude toward all who refuse or neglect to believe in His Son.
First of all, this verse from God’s Word tells us what God’s attitude is toward the world. What is God’s attitude toward the world? LOVE. The sentence reads, “God so LOVED the world.” Love is the most wonderful thing in the world, and love is one of the most uncommon things in the world.
There is in the world today much that is called “love,” but most of that which is called love is not love at all. We speak oftentimes of a young man’s “love” for a young woman, and all we mean by it is that this young man wishes to get that young woman for his own pleasure and gratification. That is not love at all; it oftentimes has not the slightest semblance of love. It is oftentimes utter selfishness and not infrequently the vilest and most unbridled lust.
It is not at all unlikely that if the young woman refuses to accept him as a husband or so-called “lover,” he will shoot her down or seek to blast her reputation. And that hideous thing we call “love!” He “loved” her so much that he killed her. It is really as remote from love as anything possibly can be, as remote from love as hell is from heaven. It is the very lowest order of selfishness and the grossest beastliness.
When a lawyer in this city week before last shot his former wife because she would not return to him and endure longer the outrages that he had inflicted upon her for years, was it love that prompted his amazingly cowardly; sneaking, cruel, ruffianly, devilish act? No, it was a passion that would have disgraced the lowest wild beast of the jungle.
We speak of one man’s love for another. What do we usually mean? Only this - the two men are friendly because in many respects they are congenial and enjoy one another’s society. But if one does some little thing that offends the other, the so-called love is turned into utter indifference or even into bitter hate. It was never “love.” It was mere self-centered fondness.
All this is not love. What is love? Love is the consuming; absorbing desire for and delight in anothers highest good. Real love is entirely unselfish. It loses sight utterly of self-interest and sets itself to seeking the interest of the person loved. This was God’s attitude toward the world. He loved the world, really loved it.
He looked down upon this world, the whole mass of men living at any time upon it and that should live upon it in all times to come, and He loved them all. His whole being went out in infinite yearning to benefit and bless the world. Any cost to Himself would be disregarded if it would bless the world to pay the cost. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Oh, men and women, stand and wonder! Oh, angels and archangel, cherubim and seraphim, stand and wonder! “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”
Some men tell us that they cannot believe the Bible to be the Word of God because there are so many incredible statements in it. But that is the most incredible statement in the whole Book, and yet we know it is true. If I can believe that statement I ought not to have any difficulty with any other statement in the whole Book, and I can believe that statement. I do believe that statement. I know that statement is true. I have put it to the test of personal experience and found it true. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”; that has been God’s attitude toward the world from the beginning. That is God’s attitude toward the world tonight.
God loves the world. There are men and women and children in this world whom you and I love, but God loves the whole world. There is not a man in it, not a woman in it, not a child in it whom God does not love. From the intellectually most rarely gifted and morally most saintly man and woman down to the most apelike and ignorant and the morally most degraded and brutelike man or woman, God loves each and every one. “God so loved the world.”
There are hundreds and hundreds of people who gather in this church about whom you care absolutely nothing. You never saw them before; you will never see them again. If you should read in your paper tomorrow morning, “John Jones, who was at the Church of the Open Door, as he was going home from the meeting, got in front of a Sixth Street car and was instantly killed,” you would hardly give it a second thought. John Jones is nothing to you.
But John Jones is something to God. God loves John Jones, and John Smith, and John Johnson, and every other man and woman and child. You may be a very lonely stranger in a great city’s crowd. Perhaps you have been unfortunate and are penniless and friendless; perhaps you have gone down into some black depth of sin, and you say to yourself, “Not one person in this great crowd has the slightest interest in me.” That may be true. But there is One who has an interest in you. There is One who so loved you that He “gave his only begotten Son” to die for you, and that One is God. God loves the world and every one in it. God loves the world in the purest, deepest, and highest sense of that word love. Yes, God loves you. “Whom do you mean by you?” someone asks. I mean every man, woman, and child.
There is nothing about the world that God should love it. It is a sinful world, it is a selfish world, it is a corrupt world. The more I get to know the world of which I am a part, and the more I get to know myself, the more I am humbled. John was entirely right when he said, “The whole world lieth in wickedness” (I John 5:19).
I am an optimist, but I am not an optimist by painting a black world white. Look at the rich world. What a cruel thing it is. How it marches on, trampling down every one that lies in its path to obtain greater wealth. How are great fortunes usually built up? You know. I know - by the trampling of human hearts underfoot.
But look at the poor world. It is nearly as cruel as the rich world. One day in Chicago two men were working hard to make an honest living for themselves and their families, just four doors north of the church of which I was pastor. Four other poor men sneaked in, chopped their heads open with hatchets, and ran. Why did they do it? Simply because they wanted the jobs of those two men. The two men struck down by the four heartless cowards were guilty of no crime and no wrong against the ones that cut them down. They did not belong to the union, that was all.
If you wish to know the spirit of the rich world, look at some of the greedy, conscienceless trusts. If you wish to know the spirit of the poor world, look at the present day methods of the trades unions. The spirit of both is essentially the same - greed for gold; money must be secured at any cost, even the cost of murder of others by the slow process of starvation on the part of the rich or the rapid process of hatchet and bullet and dynamite on the part of the poor.
A cruel, selfish, bloodthirsty world is this. What the world really is we saw in the late war. But God loves it. God loves those four cowards who cut down their fellow laboring men. God loves those millionaires who, already having more than is for their own good or for the good of their families, are trying to increase their wealth by crowding competitors to the wall and their families to the poorhouse. God loves those moral monsters that made Europe flow with blood and gasp with poison gas. God loves the world.
As I come to know more and more of the cruelty, the greed, the selfishness, the falsehood, the villainy, the lust, the vileness, and the beastliness there is in this world - in the social world, high and low, in the business world in all its departments, and in the political world - I sometimes almost wonder why God does not blot out this whole world as He did Sodom and Gomorrah of old. Why does He not do it? I will tell you why. God loves the world. In spite of all its cruelty, in spite of all its greed, in spite of all its selfishness, in spite of all its lust, in spite of all its vileness in thought, word, and deed, God loves the world. Is it not wonderful, is it not amazing that a holy God should love a sinful world like this? But He does.
There is not a man whom God does not love. There is not a woman whom God does not love. There is not a thief whom God does not love. There is not a woman who has forgotten her modesty and her true womanhood that God does not love. There is not an adulterer whom God does not love, not a sinner, not an outcast, not a criminal of any kind whom God does not love. “God so loved the world.”
Years ago I said to a woman, in deep despair because of the depths of iniquity and infamy into which she had fallen, “God loves you.”
“Not me, Mr. Torrey. God doesn’t love me. I have killed a man,” she cried.
“Yes, I know that, but God loves you.”
“No, not me. I have murdered innocent, unborn babes.”
“Yes, I know that, but God loves you.”
“Not me. My heart is as hard as a rock.”
“Yes, but God loves you.”
“Not me. I have prayed to the devil to take away all my convictions, and he has done it.”
“Yes, I know all that, but God loves you.”
Then I made that woman get down on her knees, and she came to believe in God’s love to her and found a great peace. I saw her again last month when I was in Chicago. She came down to the platform to speak to me at the close of one of my meetings.
She said, “Do you know me?”
I replied, “Of course, I know you,” and called her by name.
Her face was wreathed with smiles. “Oh,” she said, “Mr. Torrey, I am still at the old work of winning others to Christ.”
Ah, some of you self-righteous skeptics hold up your hands in holy horror and disgust and say, “I don’t want to believe in a God who welcomes sinners so vile as that.” You miserable Pharisee, you old hypocrite, you are essentially as bad as she once was and infinitely worse than she now is. But God loves you, even you. God’s attitude toward the whole wide world is love.
But what is God’s attitude toward sin? Our text tells us, God’s attitude toward sin is HATE. God loves the world with infinite love. God hates sin with infinite hate. How does our text show that? Listen. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” How does that show that God hates sin? In this way: if God had not hated sin He could have saved the world He loved without an atonement, without the atonement that cost Him so much, the death and agony of His only begotten Son, who died as an atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Because God was holy and therefore hated sin, hated it with infinite hatred, His hatred of sin must manifest itself somehow, either in the punishment of the sinner - and the banishment of the sinner forever from Himself from life, and from hope - or in some other way. But God’s love would not permit the just punishment of the sinner. So God in the person of His Son took the penalty of sin upon Himself and thus saved the world He loved. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath made to strike on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6, literal translation; italics added). In this way God made possible the salvation that He Himself purchased for men by the atoning death of His only begotten Son.
The cross of Christ declares two things: first, God’s infinite love of the world; second, God’s infinite hatred of sin. Oh, wicked man, do not fancy that because God loves you He will wink at your sin. Not for one moment. He hates your sin, He hates your greed, He hates your selfishness, He hates your lying, He hates your drunkenness, He hates your impure imagination, He hates your moral uncleanness, He hates your beastliness, He hates every sin, great and small, of which you are guilty. The hatred of a true man for all falsehood, the hatred of honest men for all dishonesty, the hatred of a true, pure woman for the unspeakable vileness of the woman of the street and gutter is nothing to the blazing wrath of God at your smallest sin. Nevertheless, God loves you.
This wonderful verse also tells of God’s attitude toward His Son. What is God’s attitude toward His Son? Listen. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” God’s attitude toward His Son, “his only begotten Son,” is infinite love. The Lord Jesus is the only Son of God. We become sons of God through our faith in Him, but He is the only Son of God by eternal and inherent right. He was the object of His Father’s infinite love in the measureless ages before any one of the worlds was created - yes, before there was angel or archangel or any of the heavenly beings.
Let me speak to you, fathers. What is your attitude toward your son? How you love him! And if you have only one son, how intensely you love him. I have but one son. I have longed for more, but God in His wisdom has seen fit to give us but one son. How I love him! God only knows how I love him. But my love to my one son is nothing, nothing at all compared to God’s love for His only begotten Son.
I sometimes think of my boy and fancy I know something of God’s love for Jesus Christ, but it is only a little, a very little that I know. But though God thus loved His Son, God gave that Son whom He so infinitely loved, that Son who through all eternity had been the object of His delight, God gave that only begotten Son for the world, for you and for me. He gave Him to leave heaven and His own companionship to come down to earth to live a lonely stranger here. He gave Him to be spit upon and buffeted and “despised and rejected of men.” He gave Him to be crowned with thorns, mocked at, and derided. He gave Him to be dragged through the streets before a howling, yelling, jeering mob. He gave Him to be nailed to the cross - yes, to a cross - and to hang there in misery, pain, and agony for hours, the object of the rude jests and jeers of the merciless mob. He gave Him to die of a “broken heart,” a heart broken by the reproach of the men He loved (Psalm 69:20) and by grief over man’s sins, which He had taken upon Himself. Yes, God gave Him His only begotten Son, thus to be separated from Himself, to suffer, and to die. Why? Because God loved you and me, and that was the only price that would purchase our salvation. And God paid that price, that awful price.
Oh, it is wonderful! I can think of but one other thing that is anywhere near as wonderful as the love of God for sinners. What is that? The way we treat that love. The way men treat it. The way some of you despise it. The way you reject it. The way you trample it underfoot. The way you even try to doubt it, disbelieve it, deny it, discredit it, and try to make yourself think that you have “intellectual difficulties about the doctrine of the atonement.”
People, at least be honest. Your real difficulty is not intellectual - you want to save your pride and excuse the enormity of your ingratitude. To do that you do not hesitate at the gross sin of even denying the Lord that bought you, bought you by His atoning agony and death (2 Peter 2:1). Oh, be honest with the wondrous love of God, even if you are determined to spurn it. Your pretended “theological difficulties with the atonement” that Jesus Christ made upon the cross are simply your dishonest attempt to excuse your abominable ingratitude and damnable rejection of infinite love. Bear with me for talking thus plainly about your sin. I do it in love to you. You may not be willing to admit that tonight, but you will have to admit it in that day when you stand in the light of the great white throne where all lies and pretexts and deceptions and hypocrisies will be burned up.
Now let us look at another thing: what the sentence teaches about God’s attitude toward believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. What is God’s attitude toward all who believe in Jesus Christ? It can be put in a few words. God’s attitude toward all believers in Jesus Christ is to give them eternal life. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting lifr.” The death of Jesus Christ has opened for all who believe in Him a way of pardon and made it possible for a holy God to forgive sin and to give eternal life to the vilest sinner if only he will believe in Jesus Christ. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and these wages must be paid; but Jesus Christ paid the price, so life and not death is possible for you and me - ”the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Whosoever believes on Jesus Christ, whom God gave to die for him, can have eternal life, yes, does have eternal life. Anyone can have eternal life. There is but one condition - just believe on Jesus Christ. You ought to do it anyhow, even if there were nothing to be gained by your believing in Him; you owe it to Jesus Christ to believe on Him. He is infinitely worthy of your faith.
But there is something to be gained by believing on Him, something of infinite worth - eternal life. Do you wish eternal life? You can have it. Anyone can have it, no matter what his past may have been. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Oh, if I offered you great honor it would be nothing compared with this. I offered you enormous wealth it would be nothing compared with this. If I offered you exemption from all sickness and pain it would be nothing compared with this. Eternal life! That is what God offers. And God offers it to each one of you. Oh, how it makes the heart swell and throb with hope and joy and rapture - eternal life!
There is just one thing left to mention, and that is God’s attitude toward all those who will not believe on Jesus Christ. What is it? Listen. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God’s attitude toward those who will not believe in Jesus Christ, those who prefer sin and vanity and pride to the glorious Son of God, is simply this: God with great grief and reluctance withdraws from them the infinite gift He has purchased at so gnat cost and which they will not accept God leaves them to perish. There is no hope for any man who rejects God’s gift of eternal life, obtained by simply believing in His only begotten Son. God has exhausted all the possibilities oh saving love and power in Jesus Christ’s atonement on the cross of Calvary. Reject Him, neglect to accept Him, and you must eternally perish.
God’s attitude toward the world is infinite love; God’s attitude toward sin is infinite hatred. God’s attitude toward His Son is unutterable love, but He gave up that Son to die for you and me. God’s attitude toward the believer is to give him eternal life, regardless of what his past has been. God’s attitude toward those who will not believe is to leave them to the perdition they so madly choose. Men and women, what will you choose tonight, life or death? Some of you will decide that question in a few minutes, decide it for all eternity. May God help you to decide it right.
One night in Minneapolis years ago, I knelt in prayer beside a young woman who was having an awful struggle. A fearful battle was going on in her soul between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. She heard God calling her to accept His love and to accept the eternal life that that love had purchased by the atoning death of His own Son. But she heard other voices too, voices of the world, and the voice of Satan himself, luring her to turn her back upon Jesus Christ and choose the world. !t was awful to watch the battle, my heart ached as I watched the battle, and I kept crying to God that the Holy Spirit might gain the victory. Now and then! spoke to her. Finally! took out my watch and said, “This battle cannot last much longer. Continue to resist the Holy Spirit as you are resisting Him now, and you will seal your doom! believe if you do not yield to God in the next ten minutes that you will never yield but will be lost forever.” Then! prayed but said nothing more to her, but now and again looked at my watch. The fight went on. Which way would she decide! Before the ten minutes were up the yielded to God.
There is a like battle going on in the hearts of some who are reading these words. Some of you have been brought to realize the wondrous love of God for you as you have never realized it before. Some of you have been brought to see that eternal life is possible for you today if you will only choose Christ. But the power of the world and of sin and of Satan is strong upon you still, and the world, sin, and above all Satan will not let you go without making a mighty effort to keep you in his power, to blind you, and to forever destroy your soul.
Oh, men and women out of Christ, each and every one of you, look, look, look! Look once more at the cross of Christ. See Him hanging there in awful agony paying the penalty of your sin, and as you look, listen once more to the precious words of the most wonderful sentence that was ever written, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” What will you do with that love tonight? Will you yield to it and believe on the Savior and obtain eternal life? Or will you trample that wondrous love of God underfoot, and say again tonight as you have often said before,”I will not accept Christ,” and go out to perish, perish eternally?
One night many years ago, I was preaching the first sermon I ever preached in the city of Chicago. (It was some years before I went there to live.) I was at the first International Convention of Christian Workers. The morning the convention opened I entered a little late, and the nominating committee was just bringing in its report. To my amazement, I heard them announce my name as nominated for chairman of the convention and president of the International Christian Workers’ Association. I was not yet thirty years old, and there were many workers there who knew far more about aggressive methods of Christian work than I had ever learned.
However, there was nothing to do but to accept the position, and during the days of that wonderful convention I occupied the chairman’s seat. The convention was held in the old First Methodist Church in the heart of the city; at the corner of Washington and Clark streets.
When Sunday came, of course the church held its own ser¬vices, but I was invited to preach at the evening service. There had been much prayer, and the Spirit of God was present in great power; when I gave the invitation many rose to say that they would accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and then came down to the altar. Among those who had risen I noticed a beautifully dressed lady near the front, an intelligent looking woman, but I noticed also that she did not come to the altar with the others. While the altar service was in progress I stepped down and urged her to come to the front, but she refused.
On Monday night at the regular session of the convention I saw her come in and take a seat just a few rows from the back of the building. When the meeting was drawing to a close I called Mayor Howland of Toronto (who was vice-president of the convention) to the chair and slipped down to the back of the church in order that I might speak with that lady before she got out of the building. The moment the benediction was pronounced I hastened to her side and asked if she would remain a few moments. As the others filed out she sat down, and! took a seat beside her and commenced to urge upon her an immediate and whole-hearted acceptance of Jesus Christ.
“Let me tell you my story,” she replied. “I have attended a Sunday school in this city ever since I was a little girl. I scarcely missed a Sunday.” (She told me what Sunday school it was - one of the aristocratic Sunday schools on the North Side.) “But,” she continued, “though I have been going to Sunday school all these years, do you know that you are the first person in all my life that ever spoke to me personally about my accepting Christ?”
Then she went on to tell me the story of her life. She was unusually well-educated, occupying a high position of responsibility, but the story that she told me of her career was so shameless that I was amazed that a woman of sense, to say nothing of character, would dream of telling such a story to a man. Then she hurried on and told me how she had passed the preceding Easter Sunday. It was a story I could not repeat. Having finished, she said with a mocking laugh, “Funny way to spend Easter, wasn’t it?”
I was astounded and shocked. I did not attempt to say any¬thing in reply I did not wish to. I simply opened my Bible to John 3:16, handed it to her, and asked her to read. It was a diamond print Bible, and she had to hold it close to her face to see the words. She began to read with a smile on her lips, “For God so loved the world” - the smile vanished as she read on - ”that he gave his only begotten Son.” She choked and broke down; the tears literally poured from her eyes on the page of the Bible and on the beautiful silk dress she wore. The love of God had conquered that sinful, hardened, trifling, seemingly shameless heart.
Oh, friend, I would that that love might break your heart, break down your hardness, unbelief, worldliness, and resistance to God and His love. See the Lord Jesus hanging on yonder cross in unutterable agony, in indescribable pain, His heart breaking for you, breaking for your sins, and hear again this most wonderful sentence that was ever written, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”