by The Bible Study Tools | “The breadth, and length, and depth, and height.”—Bph. iii. 18.
Op what? There can, I think, be no doubt as to the answer. The next clause is evidently the continuation of the idea begun in that of our text, and it runs ;” and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” It is the immeasurable measure, then; the boundless bounds and dimensions of the love of Christ which fire the Apostle’s thoughts here. Of course, he had no separate idea in his mind attaching to each of these measures of magnitude, but he gathered them together simply to express the one thought of the greatness of Christ’s love. Depth and height are the same dimension measured from opposite ends. The one begins at the top and goes down, the other begins at the bottom and goes up, but the surface is the same in either case. So we have the three dimensions of a solid here—breadth, length, and depth.
I suppose that I may venture to use these expressions with a somewhat different purpose from that for which the Apostle employs them ; and to see in each of them a separate and blessed aspect of the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
I. What, then, is the breadth of that love?
It is as broad as humanity. As all the stars lie in the firmament, so all creatures rest in the Heaven of His love. Mankind has many common characteristics. We all suffer, we all sin, we all hunger, we all aspire, hope, and die ; and, blessed be God! we all occupy precisely the same relation to the Divine love which lies in Jesus Christ. There are no step-children in God’s great family, and none of them receive a more grudging or a less ample share of His love and goodness than every other. Far-stretching as the race, and curtaining it over as some great tent may enclose on a festal day a whole tribe, the breadth of Christ’s love is the breadth of humanity.
And it is universal because it is Divine. No human mind can be stretched so as to comprehend the whole of the members of mankind, and no human heart can be so emptied of self as to be capable of this absolute universality and impartiality of affection. But the intellectual difficulties which stand in the way of the width of our affections and the moral difficulties which stand still more frowningly and forbiddingly in the way, have no power over that love of Christ’s which is close and tender, and clinging with all the tenderness and closeness and clingingness of a human affection and lofty and universal and passionless and perpetual, with all the height and breadth and calmness and eternity of a Divine heart.
And this broad love, broad as humanity, is not shallow because it is broad. Our love is too often like the estuary of some great stream which runs deep and mighty as long as it is held within narrow banks, but as soon as it widens becomes slow and powerless and shallow. The intensity of human affection varies inversely as its extension. A universal philanthropy is a passionless sentiment. But Christ’s love is deep though it is wide, and suffers no diminution because it is shared amongst a multitude. It is like the great feast that He Himself spread for five thousand men, women, and children, all seated at a table, “and they did all eat and were filled.”
The whole love is the property of each recipient of it He does not love as we do, who give a part of our heart to this one and a part to that one, and share the treasure of our affections amongst a multitude. All this gift belongs to every one, just as all the sunshine comes to every eye, and as every beholder sees the moon’s path across the dark waters, stretching from the place where he stands to the centre of light.
This broad love, universal as humanity, and deep as it is broad, is universal because it is individual. You and I have to generalise, as we say, when we try to extend our affections beyond the limits of household and family and personal friends, and the generalising is a sign of weakness and limitation. Nobody can love an abstraction, but God’s love and Christ’s love do not proceed in that fashion. He individualises, loving each and therefore loving all. It is because every man has a space in his heart singly and separately and conspicuously, that all men have a place there. So our task is to individualise this broad, universal love, and to say, in the simplicity of a glad faith, ” Ha loved me and gave Himself for me.” The breadth is world-wide, and the whole breadth is condensed into, if I may so say, a shaft of light which may find its way through the narrowest clink of a single soul. There are two ways of arguing about the love of Christ, both of them valid, and both of them needing to be employed by us. We have a right to say, “He loves all, therefore He loves me.” And we have a right to say, “He lores me, therefore He loves all.” For surely the love that has stooped to me can never pass by any human soul.
What is the breadth of the love of Christ? It is broad as mankind, it is narrow as myself.
II.—Then, in the next place, what is the length of the love of Christ?
If •we are to think of Him only as a man, however exalted and however perfect, you and I have nothing in the world to do with His love. When He was here on earth it may have been sent down through the ages in some vague way, as the shadowy ghost of love may rise in the heart of a great statesman or philanthropist for generations yet unborn, which he dimly sees will be affected by his sacrifice and service. But we do not call that love. Such a poor, pale, shadowy thing has no right to the warm throbbing name; has no right to demand from us any answering thrill of affection. Unless you think of Jesus Christ as something more and other than the purest and the loftiest benevolence that ever dwelt in human form, I know of no intelligible sense in which the length of His love can be stretched to touch you.
If we content ourselves with that altogether inadequate and lame conception of Him and of His nature, of course there is no present bond between any man upon earth and Him, and it is absurd to talk about His present love as extending in any way to me. But we have to believe, rising to the full height of the Christian conception of the nature and person of Christ, that when He was here on earth the Divine that dwelt in Him so informed and inspired the human as that the love of His man’s heart was able to grasp the whole, and to separate the individuals that should make up the race till the end of time; so as that you and I, looking back over all the centuries, and asking ourselves what is the length of the love of Christ, can say, “It stretches over all the years, and it reached then as it reaches now to touch me, upon whom the ends of the earth have come.” Its length is conterminous with the duration of humanity here or yonder.
That thought of eternal being, when we refer it to God, towers above us and repels us; and when we turn it to ourselves and think of our own life as unending, there come a strangeness and an awe that is almost shrinking, over the thoughtful spirit. But when we transmute it into the thought of a love whose length is unending, then over all the shoreless, misty, melancholy sea of eternity, there gleams a light, and every wavelet flashes up into glory. It is a dreadful thing to think, “For ever, Thou art God.” It is a solemn thing to think “For ever I am to be;” but it is life to say :—” 0 Christ! Thy love endureth from everlasting to everlasting; and because it lives. I shall live also—” “Oh ! give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.”
There is another measure of the length of the lore of Christ. “Master! How often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him ?—I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.”—So said the Christ, multiplying perfection into itself twice—two sevens and a ten—in order to express the idea of boundlessness. And the law that He laid down for His servant is the law that binds Himself. What is the length of the love of Christ? Here is one measure of it,—howsoever long drawn out my sin may be, this is longer; and the white line of His love runs out into infinity, far beyond the point where the black line of my sin stops. Anything short of eternal patience would have been long ago exhausted by your sins and mine, and our brethren’s. But the pitying Christ, the eternal Lover of all wandering souls, looks down from Heaven upon every one of us; goes with us in all our wanderings, bear with us in all our sins, in all cur transgressions still is gracious. His pleadings sound on, like some stop in an organ continuously persistent through all the other notes. And round His throne are written the Divine words which have been spoken about our human love modelled after His “Charity suffereth long and is kind ; is not easily provoked, is not soon angry, beareth all things.” The length of the love of Christ is the length of eternity, and out-measures all human sin.
III.—Then again, what is the depth of that love?
Depth and height, as I said at the beginning of these remarks, are but two ways of expressing the same dimension. For the one we begin at the top and measure down, for the other we begin at the bottom and measure up. The top is the Throne ; and the downward measure, how is it to be stated? In what terms of distance are we to express it? How far is it from the Throne of the Universe to the manger at Bethlehem, and the Cross at Calvary, and the sepulchre in the garden? That is the depth of the love of Christ. Howsoever far may be the distance from that loftiness of co-equal Divinity in the bosom of the Father, and radiant with glory, to the lowliness of the form of a servant, and the sorrows, limitations, rejections, pains and death—that is the measure of the depth of Christ’s love. We can estimate the depth of the love of Christ by saying “He came from above, He tabernacled with us,” as if some planet were to burst from its track and plunge downwards in amongst the mist and the narrowness of our earthly atmosphere.
A well-known modern scientist has hazarded the speculation that the origin of life on this planet, has been the falling upon it of the fragment of a meteor, or an aerolite from some other system, with a speck of organic life upon it, from which all has developed. Whatever may be the case in regard of the physical life, that is absolutely true in the case of spiritual life. It all originates because this Heaven-descended Christ has come down the long staircase of Incarnation, and has brought with Him into the clouds and oppressions of our terrestrial atmosphere a germ of life which He has planted in the heart of the race, there to spread for ever. That is the measure of the depth of the love of Christ.
And there is another way to measure it. My sins are deep, my helpless miseries are deep, but they are shallow as compared with the love that goes down beneath all sin, that is deeper than all sorrow, that is deeper than all necessity, that shrinks from no degradation, that turns away from no squalor, that abhors no wickedness so as to avert its face from it The purest passion of human benevolence cannot but sometimes be aware of disgust mingling with its pity and its efforts, but Christ’s love comes down to the most sunken. However far in the abyss of degradation any human soul has descended, beneath it are the everlasting arms, and beneath it is Christ’s love. When a coalpit gets blocked up by some explosion no brave rescuing party will venture to descend into the lowest depths of the poisonous darkness until some ventilation has been restored. But this loving Christ goes down, down, down into the thickest, most pestilential atmosphere, reeking with sin and corruption, and stretches out a rescuing hand to the most abject and undermost of all the victims. How deep is the love of Christ? The deep mines of sin and of alienation are all undermined and countermined by His love. Sin is an abyss, a mystery, how deep only they know who have fought against it; but
“O Love I thou bottomless abyss,
My sins are swallowed up in tbee.”
“I will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” The depth’s of Christ’s love go down beneath all human necessity, sorrow, suffering, and sin.
IV.—And, lastly, what is the height of the love of Christ?
We found that the way to measure the depth was to begin at the Throne, and go down to the Cross, and to the foul abysses of evil. The way to measure the height is to begin at the Cross and the foul abysses of evil, and to go up to the Throne. That is to say, the topmost thing in the Universe, the shining apex and pinnacle, glittering away up there in the radiant unsetting light, is the love of God in Jesus Christ. The other conceptions of that Divine nature spring high above us and tower beyond our thoughts, but the summit of them all, the very topmost as it is the very bottom-most, outside of everything, and therefore high above everything, is the love of God which has been revealed to us all, and brought close to us sinful men in the manhood and passion of our dear Christ.
And that love which thus towers above us, and gleams like the shining cross on the top of some lofty cathedral spire, does not flash up there inaccessible, nor lie before us like some pathless precipice, up which nothing that has not wings can ever hope to rise, but the height of the love of Christ is an hospitable height, which can be scaled by us. Nay, rather, that heaven of love which is “higher than our thoughts,” bends down, as by a kind of optical delusion the physical heaven seems to do, towards each of us, only with this blessed difference, that in the natural world the place where heaven touches earth is always the furthest point of distance from us; and in the spiritual world, the place where Heaven stoops to me is always right over my head, and the nearest possible point to me. He has come to lift us to Himself. And this is the height of His love, that it bears us up, if we will, up and up to sit upon that throne where He Himself is enthroned.
So, brethren, Christ’s love is round about us all, as some sunny tropical sea may embosom in its violet waves a multitude of luxuriant and happy islets. So all of us islanded on our little individual lives, lie in that great ocean of love, all the dimensions of which are immeasurable, and which stretches above, beneath, around, shoreless, tideless, bottomless, endless.
But, remember, this ocean of love yon can shut out of your lives. It is possible to plunge a jar into midAtlantic, further than soundings have ever descended, and to bring it up on deck as dry inside as if it had been lying on an oven. It is possible for men and women— and I have them listening to me at this moment—to live and move and have their being in that sea of love, and never to have let one drop of its richest gifts into their hearts or their lives. Open your hearts for Him to come in, by humble faith in His great sacrifice for you. For, if Christ dwell in your heart by faith, then and only then will experience be your guide ; and you will be able to comprehend the boundless greatness, the endless duration, and absolute perfection, and to know the love of Christ •which passeth knowledge.