The Cross the Proof of the Love God
by ALEXANDER MACLAREN — 1826-1910
"God commendeth His love towards us, in that, whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8
GOD COMMENDETH HIS LOVE. That is true and beautiful, but that is not all that the apostle
means. We "commend" persons and things when we speak of them with praise and confidence. If that were the meaning of my text, it would represent the death of Christ as setting forth, in a manner to win our hearts, the greatness, the excellence, the transcendency, of God’s love. But there is more than that in the words. The expression here employed strictly means "to set two things side by side," and it has two meanings in the New Testament, both derived from that original signification. It sometimes means to set two persons side by side, in the way of introducing and recommending the one to the other. It sometimes means to set two things side by side, in the way of confirming or proving the one by the other. It is used in the latter sense
here. God not merely "commends," but "proves," His love by Christ’s death. It is the one evidence which makes that often-doubted fact certain Through it alone is it possible to hold the conviction that, in spite of all that seems to contradict the belief, God is Love. And so I wish to take the words in this sermon.
The Need for Proof That God Does Love
To hear some men speak, you would suppose that one of the simplest, clearest, and most
indisputable of all convictions was the love of God. People are found in plenty who reject the
distinctive teaching of Christianity because they say that the sterner aspects of the
evangelical faith seem to them to limit, or to contradict, the great fundamental truth of all
religion, as they take it, that God is Love. My friends, such people are kicking away the
ladder by which they climbed. I venture to say that instead of the love of God being a plain,
self-evident axiom, there needs very B evidence to give it a secure lodging-place amongst our
Do the world’s religions bear out the contention that it is so easy and natural for a man to
believe in a loving God? I think not. Comparative mythology has taught a great many lessons,
and amongst others this, that, apart from the direct or indirect influences of Christianity,
there is no creed to be found in which the belief in a God of love and in the love of God is
unfalteringly proclaimed, to say nothing of being set as the very climax of the whole
revelation. If this were the place, one could pass in review men’s thoughts about God and ask
you to look at all that assemblage of beings before whom mankind has bowed down. What would you
find? Gods cruel, gods careless, gods capricious, gods lustful, gods mighty, gods mysterious,
gods pitying-with a contempt mingled with the pity-their sorrows and follies of mankind. But in
all the pantheons there is not a loving god.
Before Jesus Christ there was no such thought, or if it were there at all, it was there as a
faint hope, a germ overlaid by other conceptions. Independent of Jesus Christ’s influence,
there is no such thought now.
Where you find the death of Christ as the proof rejected and the conviction retained, as is
often the case, you have only a sign that "the river of the water of life" has percolated to
the roots of many a tree that grows far from its banks. It is Christ who has brought the fire
of this conviction, in the broken reed of His dying flesh, and lodged it in the heart of
humanity. So I say the love of God, as is proved by men’s thoughts about Him, surely needs to
be established on a basis of unmistakable evidence.
I add that all other evidences are insufficient. Do you appeal, in the fashion of Paley and the
natural theologians, to the evidence of God in creation? Ah! you have invoked a very ambiguous
oracle that seems to speak with two voices. I say nothing about the modification that argument
has necessarily assumed if the theory of evolution is accepted. I do not think it is destroyed,
but it is profoundly modified. For if God put into matter the promise and the potency of all
these variations, He must lie back of the process, and be conceived of as forecasting, if not
guiding, the evolution’which ends in development. So the argument has only changed in its
form and is unaffected in its substance.
But, putting aside all that, you speak of the goodness of God around us. What about storms,
earthquakes, disasters, contrivances of producing pain, the law of destruction by which the
creatures live by the slaying of one another-what about all these things? "Nature, red in tooth
and claw with rapine, shrieks against the creed," that God is Love. And if we have nothing but
the evidence of nature, it seems to me that there are two voices speaking there: One says,
"There is a good God"; the other says, "Either His power is limited, or His goodness is
The same ambiguous issue comes from the evidence of human life. Ali! brethren, we have only to
look into our own lives and to look round upon the awful sights that fill the world to make the
robustest faith in the goodness and love of God stagger, unless it can stay itself against the
upright stem of the cross of Christ. Sentimentalists may talk, but the grim fact of human
suffering, of wretched, hopeless lives, rises up to say that there is no evidence broad and
deep and solid enough, outside of Christianity, to make it absolutely certain that God is Love.
There is another thing that makes necessary some irrefutable proof far firmer and Ber than any
of these that I have been referring to. That is, that conscience rises up and protests, when it
is awake, against such a notion, apart from the cross. Everybody who honestly takes stock of
himself and conceives of God in any measure aright, must feel that sin has come in to disturb
all the relations between God and man. And when once a man comes to say, "I feel that I am a
sinful man, and that God is a righteous God; how can I expect that His love will distill in
blessings upon my head?" there is only one answer-" Whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for
So, for all these reasons I venture to lay it down as a principle, in spite of modem teaching
of another sort, that the love of God is not a self-evident axiom, but needs to be proved.
The Death That Does Prove the Love
How do we know, in our own happy experiences, that love toward us exists in another heart?
Surely, by act. Words are well (and words are acts, of a sort); but we want something more.
Paul thinks that- mightier than all demonstrations of a verbal kind, in order to establish the
fact of love in the Divine heart to men-there must be some conspicuous and unmistakable act
that is the outcome of that love. So mark that, when he wants to enforce this great truth-the
shining climax of all the gospel revelation of the love of God, he does not go back to Christ’s
gentle words, nor to His teaching of God as the Father. Paul does not point to anything that
Christ says, but he points to one thing that He did, and he says, "There! that cross is the
And, since it has a special bearing on my subject, I wish to emphasize that distinction and to
beseech you to believe that you have not got within sight of the secret of Jesus, nor come near
tapping the sources of His power if you confine yourselves to His words and His teaching, or
even to the lower acts of His gentle life. You must go to the cross. It would have been much
that Paul would have spoken with certitude and with sweetness else unparalleled of the love of
God. But words, however eloquent, however true, are not enough for the soul to rest its weight
upon. We must have deeds, and these are all summed in ‘Christ died for us.))
Now, there are but two things that I wish to say about this great proof of the love of God in
First, Christ’s death proves God’s love, because Christ is Divine. How else do you account for
that extraordinary shifting of the persons in my text? "God proves His love because Christ
died?" How so? God proved His love because Socrates died? God proved His love because some
self-sacrificing doctor went into a hospital and died in curing others? God proved His love
because some man sprang into the sea and rescued a drowning woman, at the cost of his own life?
Would such talk hold? Then I wish to know how it comes that Paul ventures to say that God
proved His love because Jesus Christ died.
Unless we believe that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son of the Father, whom the Father sent, and
who willingly came for us men and for our redemption; unless we believe that, as He Himself
said, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9); unless we believe that His death
was the act, the consequence, and the revelation of the love of God, who dwelt in Him as in
none other of the sons of men, 1, for one, venture to think that Paul is talking nonsense in my
text, and that his argument is not worth a straw. You must come to the full-toned belief which,
as I think, permeates and binds together every page of the New Testament--God so loved the
world, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for sins; that Son who in the beginning was with
God, and was God; and then a flood of light is poured on the words of my text, and we can
adoringly bow the head and say, "Amen! God hath, to my understanding, and to my heart, proved
and commended His love, in that Christ died for us!"
The second thought about this death that proves the love is, that it does so because it is a
death for us. That "for us" implies two things: one, the voluntary act of God in Christ in
giving Himself up to the death, the other the beneficial effect of that death. It was on our
behalf. Therefore, it was the spontaneous outgush of an infinite love. It was for us in that it
brought an infinite benefit. And so it was a token and a manifestation of the love of God such
as nothing else could be.
Now, I wish to ask a question very earnestly: In what conceivable way can Christ’s death be a
real benefit to me? How can it do me any good? A sweet, a tender, an unexampled, beautiful
story of innocence and meekness and martyrdom which will shine in the memory of the world, and
on the pages of history, as long as the world shall last. It is all that; but what good does it
do me? Where does the benefit to me individually come in? There is only one answer, and I urge
you to ask yourselves if, in plain, sober, common sense, the death of Jesus Christ means
anything at all to anybody, more than other martyrdoms and beautiful deaths, except upon one
supposition, that He died for us, because He died instead of us. The two things are not
necessarily identical, but, as I believe, and venture to press upon you, in this case they are
identical. I do not know where you will find any justification for the rapturous language of
the whole New Testament about the death of Christ and its benefits flowing to the whole world,
unless you take the Master’s own words, "The Son of Man came to minister, and to give His life
a ransom instead of many" (Mark 10:45).
Ah, dear friends, there we touch the bedrock. That is the truth that flashes up the cross into
luster before which the sun’s light is but darkness. He who bore it died for the whole world
and was the eternal Son of the Father. If we believe that, then we can understand how Paul here
blends together the heart of God and the heart of Christ, and sets high above nature and her
ambiguous oracles, high above providence and its many perplexities, and in face of all the
shrinkings and fears of a reasonably alarmed conscience, the one truth, "God hath proved His
love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Is that your faith, your
notion of Christ’s death and of its relation to the love of God?
The Love Which Is Proved by the Death
There is much bearing upon that in my text, which I can barely spare time to draw out. But let
us think for a moment of the fact which is thus the demonstration of the love of God and try to
realize what it is that, that cross says to us as we gaze upon the silent Sufferer meekly
hanging there. I know that my words must fall far beneath the theme, but I can only hope that
you will listen to them charitably and try to better them for yourselves in your own thoughts.
I look, then, to the dying Christ, and I see there the revelation, because the consequence-of a
love that is not called forth by any lovableness on the part of its objects. The apostle
emphasizes the thought, if we render his words fully, because he says, "God proves His own
love." It is a love which, like all that belongs to that timeless, self-determining Being, has
its reason and its roots in Himself alone. We love because we discern the object to be lovable.
God loves by what I may venture to call the very necessity of His nature. Like some artesian
well that needs no pumps nor machinery to draw up the sparkling waters to flesh in the
sunlight, there gushes up from the depths of His own heart the love that pours over every
creature He has made. He loves because He is God.
In like manner, another word of my text bears upon this matter, for he says, "Whilst we were
yet sinners, Christ died for us." Oh! brethren, it is only the gospel of a dying Christ that
can calm the reasonable consciousness of discord and antagonism that springs in a man’s heart
when he lets his conscience speak. It is because He died for us that we are sure now that the
black mountain-wall of our sin, which, to our own apprehension, rises separating between us and
our God is, if I may so say, surged over by the rising flood of His love. The cross of Christ
teaches me that, and so it is the gospel for men that know themselves to be sinners. Is there
anything else that teaches it? I know not where it is, if there be.
That dying Christ, hanging there in the silence and the darkness of eclipse, speaks to me too,
of a Divine love which, though not turned away by man’s sin, is rigidly righteous.
I referred, at the beginning of my remarks, to the current, easy-going religion that says, "Oh!
we do not want any of your evangelical contrivances for forgiveness. God is Love. That is
enough for us." I venture to say that the thing which that form of thought calls love is not
love at all, but pure weakness. Such in a king or in a father would be immoral. It is not
otherwise in God. My brother! Unless you can find some means whereby the infinite love of God
can get at and soothe the sinner’s heart without periling God’s righteousness, you have done
nothing to the purpose. Such a one-eyed, lop-sided gospel will never work, has not worked, and
it never will. But, when I think of my Christ bearing the sins of the world, I say to myself,
"Herein is love. By His stripes we are healed," and in Him love and righteousness are both
crowned and wondrously brought into harmonious oneness. Is there anything else that will do
that? If there be, 1, for one, know not what it is.
Again, when I look on the dying Christ I see a divine love, which is bounded by no limits of
time or place. Look at that majestic and significant, commendeth, not commended or proved, as
if it were a past fact, sliding away rapidly into the oblivion that wraps all past events as
the world gets older, and its memory gets more burdened. It is "commendeth" today, as it
commended eighteen hundred years ago.
Remember to whom Paul was speaking-people that had never seen Jesus Christ-many of whom had not
been in the world when He left it. Yet He says "that cross stands there for you of this second
generation as the present proof of eternal love."
And, my friends, it stands for us men and women in Manchester as truly as for the men and women
of Galilee or of Rome. There is no limit of time at all, either to the power of the proof or to
the love that it establishes. But today, as long ago of old, and as it will be in the remotest
future, the cross of Christ towers up like some great mountain beacon, when all beneath is lost
to sight, as the one eternal demonstration of an everlasting love.
And now, dear brethren, proves is a cold word. It is addressed to the head. Commends is a
warmer word. It is addressed to the heart. It is not enough to establish the fact that God
loves. Arguments may be wrought in frost as well as in fire; and if I have erred in any measure
in that regard this evening, I ask pardon of Him and of you. But it is your hearts I want to
get at — through your heads. I do not care to make you orthodox believers in a doctrine. That
is all very well, but it is a very small part of our work. I want your hearts to be touched,
and that Christ shall be not only the answer to your doubts, but the sovereign of your
affections. Do you look on the death of Christ as a death for your sin? In the strength of the
revelation that it makes the love of God, do you front the perplexities, the miseries of the
world, and the raveled skeins of providence with calm, happy faces? And oh!-most important of
all-do you meet that love with an answering love?
There are two passages of Scripture which contain the whole secret of a noble, blessed, human
life. And here they are: "God so love the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). If that is
your thought about God, you know enough about Him for time and eternity. ‘We love Him, because
He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). If you can say that about yourself, all is well.
Dear friend, do you believe the one? Do you affirm the other?