11 Aug 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
It may be appropriate at this point to refer to the teaching of some Puritan theologians, popularized in this country by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that this outpouring of God’s love in the heart, which they also identified as the ‘sealing’ of the Spirit, is an experience subsequent to regeneration and given only to some. ‘You cannot be a Christian without the Holy Spirit, but you can be a Christian without having the love of God shed abroad in your heart… All Christians have not had this experience, but it is open to all; and all Christians should have it’. Dr, Lloyd-Jones goes on to cite examples from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of well-known evangelical leaders who described how God’s love ‘seemed to come in wave after wave until they were melted under the glory of it.’
Now it is not my purpose to deny that such post-conversion deeper, richer, fuller experiences of God’s love are authentic, for they are well documented in Christian biographies, and indeed I think I myself know from experience what it is on occasion to be ‘filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’ (1 Pet. 1:8),. My question is whether Romans 5:5 is primarily intended to describe unusual and overpowering experiences which are given only to some, even if they are ‘open to all’. I think not. For Paul applies both his statements (that ‘the Holy Spirit was given us’ and that ‘the love of God has been poured out into our hearts’) to the same ‘us’ whom he has in mind throughout this paragraph, namely all justified believers. Must we not say, therefore, from both Scripture and experience, that all Christian people are given by the Holy Spirit some measure of assurance of God’s love (5:5) and fatherhood (8:16)? At the same time we recognize that there are differing degrees in which this assurance is given, and that some of God’s children sometimes are simply overcome by love and joy, until they cry to him to stay his hand, lest they should collapse under the strain. Indeed, it may well be that many contemporary ‘charismatic’ experiences are precisely this – a vivid, heightened, intense, even overwhelming assurance of God’s presence and love.
But God has a second and objective way of assuring us of his love. It is that he has proved his love by Christ’s death on the cross. Previously Paul has written that God demonstrated his justice on the cross (3:25f.). Now he sees the cross as a demonstration of God’s love. Indeed, ‘demonstrate’ is really too weak a word; ‘prove’ would be better. For ‘Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God’s proof of his love towards us’ (8, REB).
In order to grasp this, we need to remember that the essence of loving is giving. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….’ (Jn. 3:16; cf. 1 Jn. 4:10). ‘The Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal. 2:20). Moreover, the degree of love is measured partly by the costliness of the gift to the giver, and partly by the worthiness or unworthiness of the beneficiary. The more the gift costs the giver, and the less the recipient deserves it, the greater the love is seen to be. Measured by these standards, God’s love in Christ is absolutely unique. For in sending his Son to die for sinners, he was giving everything, his very self, to those who deserved nothing from him except judgment.
The costliness of the gift is clear. Verses 6 and 8 say only that ‘*Christ* died’. But verse 10 clarifies who ‘Christ’ is by saying that God reconciled us to himself ‘through the death of his Son’. Formally God had sent prophets, and sometimes angels. But now he sent his only Son, and in giving his Son he was giving himself. Further, he gave his Son to die for us. Some commentators seem anxious to add that there is no doctrine of atonement here, and certainly no substitutionary doctrine, since the preposition in the expression ‘for us’ is *hyper* (on behalf of’), not *anti* (‘instead of’). This is a superficial judgment, however. For what is written is that *while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us* (8), and whenever sin and death are coupled in Scripture, death is the penalty or ‘wage’ of sin (6:23; cf. 5:12). This being so, the statement that ‘Christ died for sinners’, that though the sins were ours the death was his, can mean only that he died as a sin offering, bearing in our place the penalty our sins had deserved. This helps us to understand the costliness of the gift.