(A continuation of C.J.’s interview with pastor and author Dr. Sinclair Ferguson)
C.J. Mahaney: This quote I have used numerous times in preaching. I don’t think I have ever used this quote without it affecting me. And I would anticipate this would happen even this moment. I think once readers hear the contents of this quote they will understand why:
When we think of Christ dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son! We cannot measure such love by any other standard. He is saying to us: I love you this much. The cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news: Christ died for us. He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross we could never do for ourselves. But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that he loves us.
And this is the phrase that I find just affects me every time: “We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son.” Please, the origin of that quote. And please elaborate for us.
Sinclair Ferguson: Well, there are probably several origins when I begin to think about the different parts of that quote. I think actually the statement that most affects you was stimulated by something that Spurgeon says somewhere—“We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son.” I can’t remember exactly where the quote originates, but I do remember Spurgeon is somewhere there in the stimulus. And that was because he had such a tremendous sense in his preaching about the love of God in Christ.
It is one thing to say love, isn’t it? It is another thing to exude that in preaching. We were talking about Dr. Lloyd-Jones earlier, and I think he says somewhere in his book on preaching that looking back, the one thing that he feels was missing was pathos. I don’t know that it was more missing in him than others. I think I can understand why he felt it was missing, because he was so committed to this notion of preaching being logic on fire. I can see, knowing what he knew about preachers in the past, he realized that there was something that they would have called an “affecting character” that maybe was more than just logic on fire. And Spurgeon certainly had this pathos in his preaching.
When you do look at the cross, there is something full of pathos, not because of sentiment (the poor man is dying on the cross), but because of theology. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. And the connectedness between John 3 and Romans 8:32: If he who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?
Capturing that truth in a world of the unloved—I can’t work myself up to that truth. That truth has got to break into my heart with its pathos: that he has given his own Son. And that is not just a theological construction. Therefore the heart of the atonement actually takes place not wholly outside of God but within. This is his own Son who is our Savior.
And then the logic we now have is that “if I have given my Son for you, I will stop short of nothing else for you.” Couple that with what Paul said earlier in Romans 5:8--"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (NASB).
The cross should never be expounded simply as a demonstration of the love of God in a sense of being overwhelmed with his love, like it doesn’t matter if anything else was accomplished on the cross as long as we are overwhelmed by his love and swept along into fellowship with him, and that is the atonement. No. But while wrath is satisfied and Christ dies for our sins, it would be erroneous for us to reduce this to the kind of mathematical formulation of “this is how God has merely dealt with our sins.” No, this is also how God actually proves to us he really loves us!
So it is both the effecting of the atonement and the persuading of his love. And that really takes us back to what we were talking about earlier on, in Eden. The situation with the fall of Adam, it seems to me—among the dimensions that need to be dealt with, there is the satanic dimension: the one who has now taken over the universe needs to be crushed, and in Genesis 3:15 his head will be crushed. But in that there also needs to be an atonement for guilt, but with that atonement for guilt we need to be persuaded of what was originally true, that Satan sought to destroy. This issue of being persuaded of God’s love, not in a facile way, but through the work of the cross, goes very much along with how is it that God is going to deal with the natural legalism of my heart that says, “He will only begin to love me when I do things to please him.”
Also, I think this is a powerful reality in difficult providences. There are times when I bump into somebody unexpectedly that I will say, “This is a happy providence.” And then I will stop and think, “Would it have been an unhappy providence if I hadn’t bumped into you?” We have this tendency—especially if you are inclined to this legalism—to measure how God’s love is doing for you these days by the providences that surround your life. Our ability to read providences are a very inaccurate measure of God’s love for us.
So again, it’s back to the cross. This is where God demonstrates his love. I don’t know that Christ loves me because I am in the boat with him and the seas are calm. And therefore I don’t know that Christ doesn’t love me because I am in the boat with him and the seas are not calm. I know my heart will say to him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”
But with the cross I know he is saying to me, “The reason I am in the boat and the reason I am going to the cross is because I care. So my love is demonstrated towards you in this way.”
CJM: Well, I only wish everyone could be here in this room right now. I hope that what is taking place in this room is transferred to people’s hearts and that God’s love, as so eloquently just expressed by Sinclair, in and through the cross, would transform people’s hearts and make an immediate and dramatic difference. I pray that everyone reading would be persuaded that he loves us because of what took place upon the cross.
The Ferguson quote at the top is taken from Grow in Grace (Banner of Truth, 1989), pp. 56, 58.
Photo © 2008, Lukas VanDyke