Christ, who is love itself, is here discoursing concerning love, a fourfold love.
I. Concerning the Father’s love to him; and concerning this he here tells us, 1. That the Father did love him (John 15:9): As the Father hath loved me. He loved him as Mediator: This is my beloved Son. He was the Son of his love. He loved him, and gave all things into his hand; and yet so loved the world as to deliver him up for us all. When Christ was entering upon his sufferings he comforted himself with this, that his Father loved him. Those whom God loves as a Father may despise the hatred of all the world. 2. That he abode in his Father’s love, John 15:10. He continually loved his Father, and was beloved of him. Even when he was made sin and a curse for us, and it pleased the Lord to bruise him, yet he abode in his Father’s love. See Ps. 89:33. Because he continued to love his Father, he went cheerfully through his sufferings, and therefore his Father continued to love him. 3. That therefore he abode in his Father’s love because he kept his Father’s law: I have kept my Father’s commandments, as Mediator, and so abide in his love. Hereby he showed that he continued to love his Father, that he went on, and went through, with his undertaking, and therefore the Father continued to love him. His soul delighted in him, because he did not fail, nor was discouraged, Isa. 42:1-4. We having broken the law of creation, and thereby thrown ourselves out of the love of God; Christ satisfied for us by obeying the law of redemption, and so he abode in his love, and restored us to it.
II. Concerning his own love to his disciples. Though he leaves them, he loves them. And observe here,
1. The pattern of this love: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. A strange expression of the condescending grace of Christ! As the Father loved him, who was most worthy, he loved them, who were most unworthy. The Father loved him as his Son, and he loves them as his children. The Father gave all things into his hand; so, with himself, he freely giveth us all things. The Father loved him as Mediator, as head of the church, and the great trustee of divine grace and favour, which he had not for himself only, but for the benefit of those for whom he was entrusted; and, says he, “I have been a faithful trustee. As the Father has committed his love to me, so I transmit it to you.” Therefore the Father was well pleased with him, that he might be well pleased with us in him; and loved him, that in him, as beloved, he might make us accepted, Eph. 1:6.
2. The proofs and products of this love, which are four:—
(1.) Christ loved his disciples, for he laid down his life for them (John 15:13): Greater proof of love hath no man to show than this, to lay down his life for his friend. And this is the love wherewith Christ hath loved us, he is our antipsychos—bail for us, body for body, life for life, though he knew our insolvency, and foresaw how much the engagement would cost him. Observe here, [1.] The extent of the love of the children of men to one another. The highest proof of it is laying down one’s life for a friend, to save his life, and perhaps there have been some such heroic achievements of love, more than plucking out one’s own eyes, Gal. 4:15. If all that a man has he will give for his life, he that gives this for his friend gives all, and can give no more; this may sometimes be our duty, 1 John 3:16. Paul was ambitious of the honour (Phil. 2:17); and for a good man some will even dare to die, Rom. 5:7. It is love in the highest degree, which is strong as death. [2.] The excellency of the love of Christ beyond all other love. He has not only equaled, but exceeded, the most illustrious lovers. Others have laid down their lives, content that they should be taken from them; but Christ gave up his, was not merely passive, but made it his own act and deed. The life which others have laid down has been but of equal value with the life for which it was laid down, and perhaps less valuable; but Christ is infinitely more worth than ten thousand of us. Others have thus laid down their lives for their friends, but Christ laid down his for us when we were enemies, Rom. 5:8, 10. Plusquam ferrea aut lapidea corda esse oportet, quae non emolliet tam incomparabilis divini amoris suavitas—Those hearts must be harder than iron or stone which are not softened by such incomparable sweetness of divine love.—Calvin.
(2.) Christ loved his disciples, for he took them into a covenant of friendship with himself, John 15:14, 15. “If you approve yourselves by your obedience my disciples indeed, you are my friends, and shall be treated as friends.” Note, The followers of Christ are the friends of Christ, and he is graciously pleased to call and account them so. Those that do the duty of his servants are admitted and advanced to the dignity of his friends. David had one servant in his court, and Solomon one in his, that was in a particular manner the king’s friend (2 Sam. 15:37; 1 Kgs. 4:5); but this honour have all Christ’s servants. We may in some particular instance befriend a stranger; but we espouse all the interests of a friend, and concern ourselves in all his cares: thus Christ takes believers to be his friends. He visits them and converses with them as his friends, bears with them and makes the best of them, is afflicted in their afflictions, and takes pleasure in their prosperity; he pleads for them in heaven and takes care of all their interests there. Have friends but one soul? He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit, 1 Cor. 6:17. Though they often show themselves unfriendly, he is a friend that loves at all times. Observe how endearingly this is expressed here. [1.] He will not call them servants, though they call him Master and Lord. Those that would be like Christ in humility must not take a pride in insisting upon all occasions on their authority and superiority, but remember that their servants are their fellow-servants. But, [2.] He will call them his friends; he will not only love them, but will let them know it; for in his tongue is the law of kindness. After his resurrection he seems to speak with more affectionate tenderness of and to his disciples than before. Go to my brethren, John 20:17. Children, have you any meat? John 21:5. But observe, though Christ called them his friends, they called themselves his servants: Peter, a servant of Christ (1 Pet. 1:1), and so James, Jas. 1:1. The more honour Christ puts upon us, the more honour we should study to do him; the higher in his eyes, the lower in our own.
(3.) Christ loved his disciples, for he was very free in communicating his mind to them (John 15:15): “Henceforth you shall not be kept so much in the dark as you have been, like servants that are only told their present work; but, when the Spirit is poured out, you shall know your Master’s designs as friends. All things that I have heard of my Father I have declared unto you.” As to the secret will of God, there are many things which we must be content not to know; but, as to the revealed will of God, Jesus Christ has faithfully handed to us what he received of the Father, John 1:18; Matt. 11:27. The great things relating to man’s redemption Christ declared to his disciples, that they might declare them to others; they were the men of his counsel, Matt. 13:11.
(4.) Christ loved his disciples, for he chose and ordained them to be the prime instruments of his glory and honour in the world (John 15:16): I have chosen you, and ordained you, His love to them appeared,
[1.] In their election, their election to their apostleship (John 6:70): I have chosen you twelve. It did not begin on their side: You have not chosen me, but I first chose you. Why were they admitted to such an intimacy with him, employed in such an embassy for him, and endued with such power from on high? It was not owing to their wisdom and goodness in choosing him for their Master, but to his favour and grace in choosing them for his disciples. It is fit that Christ should have the choosing of his own ministers; still he does it by his providence and Spirit. Though ministers make that holy calling their own choice, Christ’s choice is prior to theirs and directs and determines it. Of all that are chosen to grace and glory it may be said, They have not chosen Christ, but he had chosen them, Deut. 7:7, 8.
[2.] In their ordination: I have ordained you; hetheka hymas—“I have put you into the ministry (1 Tim. 1:12), put you into commission.” By this it appeared that he took them for his friends when he crowned their heads with such an honour, and filled their hands with such a trust. It was a mighty confidence he reposed in them, when he made them his ambassadors to negotiate the affairs of his kingdom in this lower world, and the prime ministers of state in the administration of it. The treasure of the gospel was committed to them, First, That it might be propagated: that you should go, hina hymeis hypagete—“that you should go as under a yoke or burden, for the ministry is a work, and you that go about it must resolve to undergo a great deal; that you may go from place to place all the world over, and bring forth fruit.” They were ordained, not to sit still, but to go about, to be diligent in their work, and to lay out themselves unweariedly in doing good. They were ordained, not to beat the air, but to be instrumental in God’s hand for the bringing of nations into obedience to Christ, Rom. 1:13. Note, Those whom Christ ordains should and shall be fruitful; should labour, and shall not labour in vain. Secondly, That it might be perpetuated; that the fruit may remain, that the good effect of their labours may continue in the world from generation to generation, to the end of time. The church of Christ was not to be a short-lived thing, as many of the sects of the philosophers, that were a nine days’ wonder; it did not come up in a night, nor should it perish in a night, but be as the days of heaven. The sermons and writings of the apostles are transmitted to us, and we at this day are built upon that foundation, ever since the Christian church was first founded by the ministry of the apostles and seventy disciples; as one generation of ministers and Christians has passed away, still another has come. By virtue of that great charter (Matt. 28:19), Christ has a church in the world, which, as our lawyers say of bodies corporate, does not die, but lives in a succession; and thus their fruit remains to this day, and shall do while the earth remains.
[3.] His love to them appeared in the interest they had at the throne of grace: Whatsoever you shall ask of my Father, in my name, he will give it you. Probably this refers in the first place to the power of working miracles which the apostles were clothed with, which was to be drawn out by prayer. “Whatever gifts are necessary to the furtherance of your labours, whatever help from heaven you have occasion for at any time, it is but ask and have.” Three things are here hinted to us for our encouragement in prayer, and very encouraging they are. First, That we have a God to go to who is a Father; Christ here calls him the Father, both mine and yours; and the Spirit in the word and in the heart teaches us to cry, Abba, Father. Secondly, That we come in a good name. Whatever errand we come upon to the throne of grace according to God’s will, we may with a humble boldness mention Christ’s name in it, and plead that we are related to him, and he is concerned for us. Thirdly, That an answer of peace is promised us. What you come for shall be given you. This great promise made to that great duty keeps up a comfortable and gainful intercourse between heaven and earth.
III. Concerning the disciples’ love to Christ, enjoined in consideration of the great love wherewith he had loved them. Three things he exhorts them to:—
1. To continue in his love, John 15:9. “Continue in your love to me, and in mine to you.” Both may be taken in. We must place our happiness in the continuance of Christ’s love to us, and make it our business to give continued proofs of our love to Christ, that nothing may tempt us to withdraw from him, or provoke him to withdraw from us. Note, All that love Christ should continue in their love to him, that is, be always loving him, and taking all occasions to show it, and love to the end. The disciples were to go out upon service for Christ, in which they would meet with many troubles; but, says Christ, “Continue in my love. Keep up your love to me, and then all the troubles you meet with will be easy; love made seven years’ hard service easy to Jacob. Let not the troubles you meet with for Christ’s sake quench your love to Christ, but rather quicken it.
2. To let his joy remain in them, and fill them, John 15:11. This he designed in those precepts and promises given them.
(1.) That his joy might remain in them. The words are so placed, in the original, that they may be read either, [1.] That my joy in you may remain. If they bring forth much fruit, and continue in his love, he will continue to rejoice in them as he had done. Note, Fruitful and faithful disciples are the joy of the Lord Jesus; he rests in his love to them, Zeph. 3:17. As there is a transport of joy in heaven in the conversion of sinners, so there is a remaining joy in the perseverance of saints. Or, [2.] That my joy, that is, your joy in me, may remain. It is the will of Christ that his disciples should constantly and continually rejoice in him, Phil. 4:4. The joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment, but the joy of those who abide in Christ’s love is a continual feast. The word of the Lord enduring for ever, the joys that flow from it, and are founded on it, do so too.
(2.) That your joy might be full; not only that you might be full of joy, but that your joy in me and in my love may rise higher and higher, till it come to perfection, when you enter into the joy of your Lord.” Note, [1.] Those and those only that have Christ’s joy remaining in them have their joy full; worldly joys are empty, soon surfeit but never satisfy. It is only wisdom’s joy that will fill the soul, Ps. 36:8. [2.] The design of Christ in his world is to fill the joy of his people; see 1 John 1:4. This and the other he hath said, that our joy might be fuller and fuller, and perfect at last.
3. To evidence their love to him by keeping his commandments: “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love, John 15:10. This will be an evidence of the fidelity and constancy of your love to me, and then you may be sure of the continuance of my love to you.” Observe here, (1.) The promise “You shall abide in my love as in a dwelling place, at home in Christ’s love; as in a resting place, at ease in Christ’s love; as in a stronghold, safe in it. You shall abide in my love, you shall have grace and strength to persevere in loving me.” If the same hand that first shed abroad the love of Christ in our hearts did not keep us in that love, we should not long abide in it, but, through the love of the world, should go out of love with Christ himself. (2.) The condition of the promise: If you keep my commandments. The disciples were to keep Christ’s commandments, not only by a constant conformity to them themselves, but by a faithful delivery of them to others; they were to keep them as trustees, in whose hands that great depositum was lodged, for they were to teach all things that Christ had commanded, Matt. 28:20. This commandment they must keep without spot (1 Tim. 6:14), and thus they must show that they abide in his love.
To induce them to keep his commandments, he urges, [1.] His own example: As I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. Christ submitted to the law of mediation, and so preserved the honour and comfort of it, to teach us to submit to the laws of the Mediator, for we cannot otherwise preserve the honour and comfort of our relation to him. [2.] The necessity of it to their interest in him (John 15:14): “You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you and not otherwise.” Note, First, Those only will be accounted Christ’s faithful friends that approve themselves his obedient servants; for those that will not have him to reign over them shall be treated as his enemies. Idem velle et idem nolle ea demum vera est amicitia—Friendship involves a fellowship of aversions and attachments.—Sallust. Secondly, It is universal obedience to Christ that is the only acceptable obedience; to obey him in every thing that he commands us, not excepting, much less excepting against, any command.
IV. Concerning the disciples’ love one to another, enjoined as an evidence of their love to Christ, and a grateful return for his love to them. We must keep his commandments, and this is his commandment, that we love one another, John 15:12, 17. No one duty of religion is more frequently inculcated, nor more pathetically urged upon us, by our Lord Jesus, than that of mutual love, and for good reason. 1. It is here recommended by Christ’s pattern (John 15:12): as I have loved you. Christ’s love to us should direct and engage our love to each other; in this manner, and from this motive, we should love one another, as, and because, Christ has loved us. He here specifies some of the expressions of his love to them; he called them friends, communicated his mind to them, was ready to give them what they asked. Go you and do likewise. 2. It is required by his precept. He interposes his authority, has made it one of the statute-laws of his kingdom. Observe how differently it is expressed in John 15:12, 17, and both very emphatic. (1.) This is my commandment (John 15:12), as if this were the most necessary of all the commandments. As under the law the prohibition of idolatry was the commandment more insisted on than any other, foreseeing the people’s addictedness to that sin, so Christ, foreseeing the addictedness of the Christian church to uncharitableness, has laid most stress upon this precept. (2.) These things I command you, John 15:17. He speaks as if he were about to give them many things in charge, and yet names this only, that you love one another; not only because this includes many duties, but because it will have a good influence upon all.