Thomas Manton (1620-1677)
“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
In these words, you have the sum and substance of the gospel. In them, observe, 1. The fountain and original of all that grace and salvation that is brought unto us, God’s unspeakable love to mankind:God so loved the world. 2. The way that God took to recover our lapsed condition or the effect and fruit that flows from this fountain: that He gave His only-begotten Son. 3. The end of it: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life...
FIRST, THE RISE AND BEGINNING OF ALL IS GOD’S INCONCEIVABLE LOVE:“God so loved the world.” Where observe, 1. The object: the world; 2. The act: loved; 3. The degree:so loved...Observe from the words that the beginning and first cause of our salvation is the mere love of God. The outward occasion was our misery; the inward moving cause was God’s love.
1. Love is at the bottom of all. We may give a reason of other things, but we cannot give a reason of His love. God showed His wisdom, power, justice, and holiness in our redemption by Christ. If you ask why He made so much ado about a worthless creature, raised out of the dust of the ground at first, had now disordered himself, and could be of no use to Him, we have an answer at hand: because He loved us. If you continue to ask, “But why did He love us?” we have no other answer but, “Because He loved us”; for beyond the first rise of things, we cannot go. And the same reason is given by Moses: “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you” (Deu 7:7-8), that is, in short, He loved you because He loved you. The same reason is given by our Lord Jesus Christ: “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Mat 11:26). All came from His free and undeserved mercy; higher we cannot go in seeking after the causes of what is done for our salvation.
2. The most remarkable thing that is visible in the progress and perfection of our salvation by Christ is love. And it is [fitting] that the beginning, middle, and end should suit. Nay, if love be so
conspicuous in the whole design and carrying on of this blessed work, it is much more in the rise and fountain. God’s great end in our redemption was the demonstration of His love and mercy to mankind, yea, not only the demonstration, but the commendation of it. That is the Apostle’s word: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). A thing may be demonstrated as real that is not commended or set forth as great. God’s design was that we should not only believe the reality, but admire the greatness of His love. Now, from first to last, love is so conspicuous that we cannot overlook it. Light is not more conspicuous in the sun than the love of God in our redemption by Christ.
3. If there were any other cause, it must be either the merit of Christ or some worthiness on our part.
(1) The merit of Christ was not the first cause of God’s love, but the manifestation, fruit, and effect of it. The text telleth [us that] He first loved the world and then gave His only-begotten Son. It is said, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us” (1Jo 3:16). Look, as we perceive and find out causes by their proper effects, so we perceive the love of God by the death of Christ. Christ is the principal means whereby God carrieth on the purposes of His grace, and therefore is represented in Scripture as the Servant of His decrees.
(2) No worthiness in us: For when His love moved Him to give Christ for us, He had all mankind in His prospect and view, as lying in the polluted mass, or in a state of sin and misery, and then provided a Redeemer for them God at first made a perfect law, which forbade all sin upon pain of death. Man did break this law, and still we break it day by day in every sin. Now when men lived and went on in sin and hostility against God, He was pleased then to send His Son to assume our nature and die for our transgressions. Therefore, the giving of a Redeemer was the work of His free mercy. Man loved not God, yea, was an enemy to God, when Christ came to make the atonement: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1Jo 4:10). “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled” (Col 1:21). We were senseless of our misery, careless of our remedy, so far from deserving that we desired no such matter. God’s love was at the beginning, not ours.
USE 1: Is to confute all misapprehensions of God. It is the grand design of Satan to lessen our opinion of God’s goodness. So he assaulted our first parents, as if God (notwithstanding all His
goodness in their creation) was envious of man’s felicity and happiness. And he hath not left off his old wont. He seeketh to hide God’s goodness and to represent Him as a God that delighteth in our destruction and damnation, rather than in our salvation, as if He were inexorable and hardly entreated to do us good. And why? That we may stand aloof from God and apprehend Him as unlovely. Or if he cannot prevail so far, he tempteth us to poor, unworthy, mean thoughts of His goodness and mercy. Now we cannot obviate the temptation better than by due reflections on His love in giving His Son for the world. This showeth that He is fuller of mercy and goodness than the sun is of light or the sea of water. So great an effect shows the greatness of the cause. Wherefore did He express His love in such a wonderful, astonishing way, but that we might have higher and larger thoughts of His goodness and mercy? By other effects, we easily collect the perfection of His attributes: that His power is omnipotent (Rom 1:20), that His knowledge is omniscient (Heb 4:12-13). And by this effect, it is easy to conceive that His love is infinite or that God is love.
USE 2: Is to quicken us to admire the love of God in Christ. There are three things that commend any favor done unto us: (1) The good will of him that giveth; (2) The greatness of the gift; (3) The unworthiness of him that receiveth. All concur here.
(1) The good will of Him that giveth: Nothing moved God to do this but His own love. It was from the free motion of His own heart, without our thought and asking. No other reason is given or can be given. We made no suit for any such thing; it could not enter into our minds and hearts; into our minds to conceive or into our hearts to desire such a remedy to recover the lapsed estate of mankind. Not into our minds, for it is a great mystery: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness” (1Ti 3:16). Not into our hearts to ask or desire, for it would have seemed a strange request that we should ask that the eternal Son of God should assume our flesh and be made sin and a curse for us. But grace hath wrought “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20), above what we can imagine, and above what we can pray for to Him.
(2) The greatness of the Gift: Great things do even force their way into our minds, whether we will or no. The gift of Jesus Christ is so great that the love of God is gone to the uttermost in it. He hath not a better Christ, nor a more worthy Redeemer, nor another Son to die for us; nor could the Son of God suffer greater indignities than He hath suffered for our sakes...So now we may know God loveth us; here is the manifest token and sign of it.
(3) The unworthiness of him that receiveth: This is also in the case. We were altogether
unworthy that the Son of God should be incarnate and die for our sakes. This is notably improved by the Apostle: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8). The Apostle alludeth to the distinction familiar among the Jews: they had their good men or bountiful; their righteous men, zealous for the Law; and their wicked men, obnoxious to judgment. Peradventure one would venture his life for a very merciful person, but you shall hardly find any to be so liberal and friendly as to venture his life for a righteous and just man, or a man of rigid innocence. But mark, there are abating terms—scarcely and perhaps. The case is rare that one should die for another, be he never so good and righteous. But God’s expression of mercy was infinitely above the proportion of any the most friendly man ever showed. There was nothing in the object to move Him to it, when we were neither good nor just, but wicked. Without respect to any worth in us, for we were all in a damnable estate, He sent His Son to die for us, to rescue and free us from eternal death, and to make us partakers of eternal life. God so loved the world, when we had so sinned and willfully plunged ourselves into an estate of damnation.
Excerpt From Sermon XVI, “Sermons upon John III.16” in The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, D.D., Vol. 2,