‘His Love Endures For Ever’ – A Review by Greg Goswell
A review by Greg Goswell of His Love Endures For Ever: Reflections on the Love of God, by Garry J. Williams (Nottingham: IVP, 2015), 192 pages, paperback, ISBN 978-1-78359-283-8.
Garry Williams teaches at London Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia. In his latest book he provides a doctrinal and devotional exploration of the love of God. Williams alerts us to the danger of repeating the words ‘God is love’ as a formula without thinking what we are saying, for it can be (and often has been) seriously misunderstood. What is needed is that we understand this statement in its wider biblical context and in co-ordination with other great Bible truths (eg ‘God is light’).
The twelve chapters of this book each consist of a doctrinal explanation of some aspect of God’s love, followed by a meditation on its spiritual significance and a closing prayer. Williams is serious in his aim of addressing both head and heart. We discover that God’s love is immeasurably greater and more wonderful than our own poor version, so that his love is not to be judged by human standards.
As fragile and fallen creatures we cannot know God and his love unaided. We are bound to have wrong ideas about his love that need to be corrected by the light of Scripture, and this calls for humility and repentance. We need the saving work of God the Son and the renewing work of God the Spirit, with the Christ-focussed Scriptures as our infallible guide to the truth about God. The Bible is a rich mosaic of images that together show us what God is really like.
The fact of the Trinity means that God did not need to create the world to have someone to love. God’s love is anterior to all other loves, and so it is the definition and test of all other loves. The Father eternally loves the Son and his Spirit, and they respond in love to him. Williams gives a moving description of this eternal divine love-community. God is not selfish to love himself and his glory first of all and above all, and our love is disordered and misplaced if we do not love God before all other objects. There are, of course, other legitimate lesser loves (eg., spouse, family) that find their proper proportion in relation to our chief love for God, otherwise they will turn into forms of enslavement and abuse and lead to the loss and death of the thing or one we love.
Williams does a good job of explaining spiritual adoption, whereby through Christ we have God as our loving, ever-present Father. God’s love of diversity is on display in the myriad variations in creatures and in his plan to save people from all nations and races. This diversity reflects the richness of God’s own inter-Trinitarian relations. God is also sovereign in his love, and through the miracle of regeneration he enables us to love what previously we hated and rejected. A realistic awareness of our sinful tendencies should make us rejoice in the truth of irresistible grace.
God’s love is different from fickle human love because his love is unchangeable. Being outside of time, God is changeless in his will and purposes. God’s love is the one love we can totally rely on. Williams tackles the difficult concept of divine impassibility (God is not subject to changing emotions), but he does truly love and he always hates sin and wrong. His affections do not come and go. God loves us, even though he knows the extent of our sin, and he turns to us in compassion. But God does not wink at our sin. He deals with it in the cross of Christ, the place where God’s love and justice meet in perfect concord.
Williams helpfully points out that it is the difference between God and us that explains why God will not forgive without seeking satisfaction for sin, whereas we should (and are commanded) to forgive and not to take vengeance. God is the Moral Governor of the Universe; we are not! We are not to nurse a grudge or seek personal vengeance, for when we do so, we are playing God, and that is not our role. A persistent theme through this book is that God is not like us. It could be suggested that this is the root of all heresy (wrong thinking about God), namely when we make God just a bigger version of ourselves. God does not love people because they are beautiful; he loves the unlovely and causes them to become beautiful. Here, then, is a book that should leave us in raptures at the wonder of God’s love, lead us to desire to love God more, and motivate us to give ourselves in loving service of others.
Rev. Dr Greg Goswell is Academic Dean and a lecturer in Old Testament at Christ College, Burwood, NSW. This review appeared in New Life (Australia), 1 October 2015 (page 13).