Our culture constantly suggests to us that the key to happiness is unconditional self-love. The implication is that this is the ultimate love and it will guarantee us success and security. This creates what one writer has called a toxic culture of self-love that will never satisfy. We do not need to go to the opposite extreme, instead we need to turn from focus on self to the ultimate love Christ has for His own. It is self-denying, self-sacrificing love for the unlovely, dealing with rather than accepting sin. Those who are His own turn from sin and by grace depend on Him alone by faith. There is very much to be gained from contemplating this ultimate special love that Christ has for His people.
We have a description of this love in John 13:1: “when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end”. This is one of the first passages that Thomas Goodwin makes use of in his book The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth. He says that although Christ’s thoughts were on leaving this world, yet they were also on His own who were in the world. The words “his own” reflect the nearness and dearness with which He considers them. His love will not be diminished in any way by departing from the world “having loved them, he alters, he changes not, and therefore will love them forever”. He will be mindful of them still and His heart in heaven has the fulness of love that He demonstrated then for them. He will love His own to the end. George Hutcheson draws out something of the fulness of comfort that John 13:1 offers to us in the following updated extract.
1. Christ’s Love is for His Own is Infinite
The infinite love of tender-hearted Christ is the allowance and portion of all His special ones; for, “he loved his own”.
2. Christ Love for His Own Answers the Troubles of this World
Christ leaves His children in this tempestuous world to be humbled with remaining sin and tossed with the tempests of time. Yet that neither takes away their claims on Him nor His love toward them; for, “he loved his own…in the world”.
3. Christ’s Love for His Own is the Same in Heaven
The disadvantages of saints (particularly being left in the world when Christ went out of it) do not hinder His love toward them. Rather it is a reason why He should love them and let out more of His love. It is not only not a hindrance of His love; it is a reason: He loved His own because they were in the world. And especially now in His farewell, He gives proof of it, considering the dangers to which they were left exposed.
4. Christ’s Love for His Own is Constant
It is not enough to see Christ’s love towards His saints in particular past experiences. They must also labour to see its uninterrupted course from the time of their conversion onwards. Therefore, now at His farewell, He makes His past love clear to them that He had loved them until now and was to give a proof of it. He “having loved his own which were in the world…loved them unto the end”.
5. Christ’s Love for His Own is Known in Every Condition
Christ’s love is not to be measured only by our satisfaction with a felt sense of the tender ways it is given to us. The sum of all His dealings towards His own is love. It ought to be read in every condition and all His dealings. Love had been maintained in His tender heart for all this time. There had been many various past experiences between Him and His disciples (some of them very contrary to their preferences). Yet all is summed up in this, He had “loved his own”.
6. Christ’s Love for His Own is Unchangeable
Christ’s special love toward His own is unchangeable and incessant until they are perfected and enjoy its fulness. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end. He continued His love from the beginning until now. He is to die for them and depart from them and continues it even then. He will do so until they are brought to the end of their journey.
7. Christ’s Love for His Own is Ever Growing
Christ’s love is not a declining love, but a love that continually grows in what it effects. Nor is it only a love that consists only in good affection and wishes. It breaks out and expresses itself in notable ways. This is evidenced by His dying for His own. He loved them to the end, even to the death He suffered for them. And in so doing, He loved them perfectly (as the Greek word translated “end” can also mean). Thus, He proved that His love was a growing love in being manifested with such abundance at last.
8. Christ’s Love for His Own Provides All They Need
When Christ’s followers are in any danger unchangeable love will be active to cover their infirmities during trials. He will provide invigorating medicines for them and testify His special care for them. His love is noted as a cause why He will reveal His love now (when He is to depart and they will be scattered, shaken with trials and left desolate). He will let out much of His heart and give them such sweet instructions in explaining the sign of washing their feet. Indeed, His love suffers much to ensure what is necessary for His disciples. If there were no more, His love is enough to move Him to see them well cared for.
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