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GOD'S UNSPEAKABLE GIFT
'Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.'—2 Cor. ix. 15.
It seems strange that there should ever have been any doubt as to what gift it is which evokes this burst of thanksgiving. There is but one of God's many mercies which is worthy of being thus singled out. There is one blazing central sun which shines out amidst all the galaxy of lights which fill the heavens. There is one gift of God which, beyond all others, merits the designation of 'unspeakable.' The gift of Christ draws all other divine gifts after it. 'How should He not with Him also freely give us all things.'
The connection in which this abrupt jet of praise stands is very remarkable. The Apostle has been dwelling on the Christian obligation of giving bountifully and cheerfully, and on the great law that a glad giver is 'enriched' and not impoverished thereby, whilst the recipients, for their part, are blessed by having thankfulness evoked towards the givers. And that contemplation of the happy interchange of benefit and thanks between men leads the fervid Apostle to the thoughts which were always ready to spring to his lips—of God as the great pattern of giving and of the gratitude to Him which should fill all our souls. The expression here 'unspeakable' is what I wish chiefly to fix upon now. It means literally that which cannot be fully declared. Language fails because thought fails.
I. The gift comes from unspeakable love.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The love is the cause of the gift: the gift is the expression of the love. John's Gospel says that51 the Son which is in the bosom of the Father has declared Him. Paul here uses a related word for unspeakable which might be rendered 'that which cannot be fully declared.' The declaration of the Father partly consists in this, that He is declared to be undeclarable, the proclamation of His name consists partly in this that it is proclaimed to be a name that cannot be proclaimed. Language fails when it is applied to the expression of human emotion; no tongue can ever fully serve the heart. Whether there be any thoughts too great for words or no, there are emotions too great. Language is ever 'weaker than our grief' and not seldom weaker than our love. It is but the surface water that can be run off through the narrow channel of speech: the central deep remains. If it be so with human affection, how much more must it be so with God's love? With lowly condescension He uses all sweet images drawn from earthly relationships, to help us in understanding His. Every dear name is pressed into the service—father, mother, husband, wife, brother, friend, and after all are exhausted, the love which clothed itself in them all in turn, and used them all to give some faint hint of its own perfection, remains unspoken. We know human love, its limitations, its changes, its extravagances, its shortcomings, and cannot but feel how unworthy it is to mirror for us that perfection in God which we venture to name by a name so soiled. The analogies between what we call love in man and love in God must be supplemented by the differences between them, if we are ever to approach a worthy conception of the unspeakable love that underlies the unspeakable gift.
II. The gift involves unspeakable sacrifice.
Human love desires to give its most precious52 treasures to its object and is then most blessed: divine love cannot come short of human in this most characteristic of its manifestations. Surely the copy is not to surpass the original, nor the mirror to flash more brightly than the sun which, at the brightest, it but reflects. In such a matter we can but stammer when we try to find words. As our text warns us, we are trying to utter the unutterable when we seek to speak of God's giving up for us; but however such a thought may seem to be forbidden by other aspects of the divine nature, it seems to be involved in the great truth that 'God is love.' Since He is, His blessedness too, must be in imparting, and in parting with what He gives. A humble worshipper in Jewish times loved enough to say that he would not offer unto God an offering that cost him nothing, and that loving height of self-surrender was at the highest, but a lowly imitation of the love to which it looked up. When Paul in the Epistle to the Romans says, 'He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all,' he is obviously alluding to, and all but quoting, the divine words to Abraham, 'Seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me,' and the allusion permits us to parallel what God did when He sent His Son with what Abraham did when, with wrung heart, but with submission, he bound and laid Isaac on the altar and stretched forth his hand with the knife in it to slay him. Such a representation contradicts the vulgar conceptions of a passionless, self-sufficing, icy deity, but reflection on the facts of our own experience and on the blessed secrets of our own love, leads us to believe that some shadow of loss passed across the infinite and eternal completeness of the divine nature when 'God sent forth His Son made of a woman.'53 And may we not go further and say that when Jesus on the Cross cried from out of the darkness of eclipse, 'My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken me?' there was something in the heavens corresponding to the darkness that covered the earth and something in the Father's heart that answered the Son's. But our text warns us that such matters are not for our handling in speech, and are best dealt with, not as matters of possibly erring speculation, but as materials for lowly thanks unto God for His unspeakable gift.
But whatever may be true about the love of the Father who sent, there can be no doubt about the love of the Son who came. No man helps his fellows in suffering but at the cost of his own suffering. Sympathy means fellow-feeling, and the one indispensable condition of all rescue work of any sort is that the rescuer must bear on his own shoulders the sins or sorrows that he is able to bear away. Heartless help is no help. It does not matter whether he who 'stands and says, "Be ye clothed and fed,"' gives or does not give 'the things necessary,' he will be but a 'miserable comforter' if he has not in heart and feeling entered into the sorrows and pains which he seeks to alleviate. We need not dwell on the familiar truths concerning Him who was a 'man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' All through His life He was in contact with evil, and for Him the contact was like that of a naked hand pressed upon hot iron. The sins and woes of the world made His path through it like that of bare feet on sharp flints. If He had never died it would still have been true that 'He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.' On the Cross He completed the libation which had continued throughout His life and 'poured out His soul unto54 death' as He had been pouring it out all through His life. We have no measure by which we can estimate the inevitable sufferings in such a world as ours of such a spirit as Christ's. We may know something of the solitude of uncongenial society; of the pain of seeing miseries that we cannot comfort, of the horrors of dwelling amidst impurities that we cannot cleanse, and of longings to escape from them all to some nest in the wilderness, but all these are but the feeblest shadows of the incarnate sorrows whose name among men was Jesus. Nothing is more pathetic than the way in which our Lord kept all these sorrows close locked within His own heart, so that scarcely ever did they come to light. Once He did permit a glimpse into that hidden chamber when He said, 'O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I suffer you?' But for the most part His sorrow was unspoken because it was 'unspeakable.' Once beneath the quivering olives in the moonlight of Gethsemane, He made a pitiful appeal for the little help which three drowsy men could give Him, when He cried, 'My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Tarry ye here and watch with Me,' but for the most part the silence at which His judges 'marvelled greatly,' and raged as much as they marvelled, was unbroken, and as 'a sheep before her shearers is dumb,' so 'He opened not His mouth.' The sacrifice of His death was, for the most part, silent like the sacrifice of His life. Should it not call forth from us floods of praise and thanks to God for His unspeakable gift?
III. The gift brings with it unspeakable results.
In Christ are hid 'all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' When God gave us Him, He gave us a storehouse in which are contained treasures of truth55 which can never be fully comprehended, and which, even if comprehended, can never be exhausted. The mystery of the Divine Name revealed in Jesus, the mystery of His person, are themes on which the Christian world has been nourished ever since, and which are as full of food, not for the understanding only, but far more for the heart and the will, to-day as ever they were. The world may think that it has left the teaching of Jesus behind, but in reality the teaching is far ahead, and the world's practise is but slowly creeping towards its imperfect attainment. The Gospel is the guide of the race, and each generation gathers something more from it, and progresses in the measure in which it follows Christ; and as for the race, so for the individual. Each of Christ's scholars finds his own gift, and in the measure of his faithfulness to what he has found makes ever new discoveries in the unsearchable riches of Christ. After all have fed full there still remain abundant baskets full to be taken up.
He who has sounded the depths of Jesus most completely is ever the first to acknowledge that he has been but as a child 'gathering pebbles on the beach while the great ocean lies unsounded before him.' No single soul, and no multitude of souls, can exhaust Jesus; neither our individual experiences, nor the experiences of a believing world can fully realise the endless wealth laid up in Him. He is the Alpha and the Omega of all our speech, the first letter and the last of our alphabet, between which lie all the rest.
The gift is completed in consequences yet unspeakable. Even the first blessings which the humblest faith receives from the pierced hands have more in them than words can tell. Who has ever spoken adequately and in full correspondence with reality what it is to have56 God's pardoning love flowing in upon the soul? Many singers have sung sweet psalms and hymns and spiritual songs on which generations of devout souls have fed, but none of them has spoken the deepest blessedness of a Christian life, or the calm raptures of communion with God. It is easy to utter the words 'forgiveness, reconciliation, acceptance, fellowship, eternal life'; the syllables can be spoken, but who knows or can utter the depths of the meanings? After all human words the half has not been told us, and as every soul carries within itself unrevealable emotions, and is a mystery after all revelation, so the things which God's gift brings to a soul are after all speech unspeakable, and the words 'cannot be uttered' which they who are caught up into the third heavens hear.
Then we may extend our thoughts to the future form of Christian experience. 'It doth not yet appear what we should be.' All our conceptions of a future existence must necessarily be inadequate. Nothing but experience can reveal them to us, and our experience there will be capable of indefinite expansion, and through eternity there will be endless growth in the appropriation of the unspeakable gift.
For us the only recompense that we can make for the unspeakable gift is to receive it with 'thanks unto God' and the yielding up of our hearts to Him. God pours this love upon us freely, without stint. It is unspeakable in the depths of its source, in the manner of its manifestation, in the glory of its issues. It is like some great stream, rising in the trackless mountains, broad and deep, and leading on to a sunlit ocean. We stand on the bank; let us trust ourselves to its broad bosom. It will bear us safe. And let us take heed that we receive not the gift of God in vain.57
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