showing the nature, ground, kinds, properties, and degree of love to god
Secondly, I proceed to the next general branch of the text.—The persons interested in this privilege. They are lovers of God: all things work together for good, to them that love God.
Despisers and haters of God, have no lot or part in this privilege; it is children's bread, it belongs only to them that love God. Because love is the very heart and spirit of religion, I shall the more fully treat upon this; and for the further discussion of it, let us notice these five things concerning love to God. Its Nature—Ground—Kinds—Properties—and Degree.
I. The nature of divine love.—Love is an expansion of soul, or the inflaming of the affections, whereby a christian breathes after God as the supreme and sovereign good. Love is to the soul as the weights to the clock, it sets the soul a-going towards God, as the wings by which we fly to heaven; by love we cleave to God, as the needle to the loadstone.
II. The ground of love to God; that is, knowledge.—We cannot love that which we do not know. That our love may be drawn forth to God, we must know these three things in him:
1. A fulness, Col 1:19.—He hath a fulness of grace to cleanse us, and of glory to crown us; a fulness not only of sufficiency, but of redundancy; he is a sea of goodness without bottom and banks.
2. A freeness.—God hath an innate propensity to dispense mercy and grace, he drops as the honeycomb. "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." Rev. 22:17. God does not require we should bring money with us, only appetite.
3. A propriety, or property.—We must know that this fulness in God is ours. "This God is our God." Psa. 48:14. Here is the ground of love, his Deity, and the interest we have in him.
III. The kinds of love—which I shall branch into these three
1. There is a love of appreciation:—When we set a high value upon God, as being the most sublime and infinite good, we so esteem God, as that if we have him, we care not though we want all things else. The stars vanish when the sun appears: all creatures vanish in our thoughts when the Sun of righteousness shines in his full splendour.
2. A love of complacency and delight:—as a man takes delight in a friend whom he loves. The soul that loves God rejoices in him, as in his treasure, and rests in him as in his centre. The heart is so set upon God, that it desires no more. "Shew us the Father, and it sufficeth." John 14:8.
3. A love of benevolence;—which is a wishing well to the cause of God.—He that is endeared in affection to his friend, wishes all happiness to him. This is to love God when we are well-wishers: we desire that his interest may prevail; our vote and prayer is, that his name may be had in honour; that his gospel, which is the rod of his strength, may, like Aaron's rod, blossom, and bring forth fruit.
IV. The properties of love
1. Our love to God must be entire, and that, in regard of the subject, it must be with the whole heart. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." Mark 12:30. In the old law, a high priest was not to marry with a widow, nor with a harlot. Not with a widow, because he had not her first love; nor with a harlot, because he had not all her love. God will have the whole heart. "Their heart is divided." Hos. 10:2. The true mother would not have the child divided; and God will not have the heart divided. God will not be an inmate, to have only one room in the heart, and all the other rooms let out to sin. It must be an entire love.
2. It must be a sincere love.—"Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus in sincerity." Eph. 6:24. Sincere; it alludes to honey that is quite pure. Our love to God is sincere, when it is pure, and without self-respects: this the school-men call a love of friendship. We must love Christ, as Augustin saith, for himself: as we love sweet wine for its taste. God's beauty and love must be the two loadstones to draw our love to him. Alexander had two friends, Hephestion and Craterus; of whom he said, Hephestion loves me because I am Alexander: Craterus loves me because I am king Alexander, the one loved his person, the other loved his gifs.—Many love God because he gives them corn and wine, and not for his intrinsic excellences. We must love God more for what he is, than for what he bestows. True love is not mercenary: you need not hire a mother to love her child: a soul deeply in love with God needs not be hired by rewards; it cannot but love him for that lustre of beauty that sparkles forth in him.
3. It must be a fervent love. The Hebrew word for love signifies ardency of affection. Saints must be seraphim, burning in holy love. To love one coldly, is all one as not to love him. The sun shines as hot as it can. Our love to God must be intense and vehement; like coals of juniper, which are most acute and fervent. Psal. 120:4. Our love to transitory things must be indifferent; we must love as if we loved not. 1 Cor. 7:30. But our love to God must flame forth. The spouse was sick of love to Christ. Cant. 2:5. We can never love God as he deserves: as God's punishing us is less than we deserve; (Ezra 9:13.) so our loving him is less than he deserves.
4. Love to God must be active;—it is like fire, which is the most active element; it is called the labour of love. 1 Thess. 1:3. Love is no idle grace, it sets the head a studying for God, the feet a running in the ways of his commandments. "The love of Christ constrains." 2 Cor. 5:14. Pretences of love are insufficient. True love is not only seen at the tongue's end, but at the finger's end; it is the labour of love. The living creatures, mentioned Ezekiel 1:8. had wings: an emblem of a good christian; he hath not only the wings of faith to fly, but hands under his wings: he works by love, he spends and is spent for Christ.
5. Love is liberal;—it hath love-tokens to bestow. 1 Cor. 13:4. Charity is kind. Love hath not only a smooth tongue but a kind heart David's heart was fired with love to God, and "he would not offer that to God which cost him nothing." 2 Sam. 24:24. Love is not only full of benevolence, but beneficence. Love which enlarges the heart, never straitens the hand. He that loves Christ, will be liberal to his members; he will be eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; the backs and bellies of the poor shall be the furrows where he sows the golden seeds of liberality. Some say they love God, but their love is lame of one hand, they give nothing to good uses. Indeed faith deals about invisibles, but God hates that love which is invisible. Love is like new wine, which will have vent, it vents itself in good works. The apostle speaks it in honour of the Macedonians, that they gave to the poor saints, not only up to, but beyond their power. 2 Cor. 8:3. Love is bred at court, it is a noble munificent grace.
6. Love to God is peculiar.—he who is a lover of God, gives him such a love as he bestows upon none else. As God gives his children such a love as he does not bestow upon the wicked—electing, adopting love; so a gracious heart gives to God such a special distinguishing love, as none else can share in. "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." 2 Cor. 11:2. A wife espoused to one husband, gives him such a love as she hath for none else; she doth not part with her conjugal love to any but her husband. So a saint espoused to Christ, gives him a peculiarity of love, a love incommunicable to any other, namely, a love joined with adoration. Not only the love is given to God, but the soul. "A garden enclosed, is my sister, my spouse." Cant. 4:12. The heart of a believer is Christ's garden, the flower growing in it, is love mixed with divine worship, and this flower is for the use of Christ alone; the spouse keeps the key of the garden, that none may come there but Christ.
7. Love to God is permanent;—it is like the fire the vestal virgins kept at Rome, it does not go out; true love boils over, but does not give over. Love to God, as it is sincere without hypocrisy, so it is constant without apostacy. Love is like the pulse of the body, always beating; it is not a land, but a spring, flood. As wicked men are constant in love to their sins; neither shame, nor sickness, nor fear of hell, will make them give over their sins, so, nothing can hinder a christian's love to God. Nothing can conquer love, not any difficulties, or oppositions. "Love is strong as the grave." Cant. 8:6. The grave swallows up the strongest bodies; so love swallows up the strongest difficulties. "Many waters cannot quench love." Cant. 8:7. Neither the sweet waters of pleasure, nor the bitter waters of persecution. Love to God abides firm to death. "Being rooted and grounded in love." Ephes. 3:17. Light things, as chaff and feathers, are quickly blown away, but a tree that is rooted abides the storm, he that is rooted in love, endures: true love never ends, but with the life.
V. The degree of love.—We must love God above all other objects. "There is nothing on earth I desire in comparison of thee." Psal. 73:25. God is the quintessence of all good things, he is superlatively good. The soul seeing a super-eminency in God, and admiring in him that constellation of all excellencies, is carried out in love to him in the highest degree. The measure of our love to God, saith Bernard, must be to love him without measure. God, who is the chief of our happiness, must have the chief of our affections. The creature may have the milk of our love, but God must have the cream. Love to God must be above all other things, as the oil swims above the water.
We must love God more than relations.—As in the case of Abraham's offering up Isaac; Isaac being the son of his old age, no question he loved him entirely, and doted on him; but when God saith, "Abraham, offer up thy son." Gen. 22:2. though it were a thing might seem, not only to oppose his reason, but his faith, for the Messiah was to come of Isaac, and if he be cut off, where shall the world have a Mediator! yet such was the strength of Abraham's faith, and ardency of his love to God, that he will take the sacrificing knife, and let out Isaac's blood. Our blessed Saviour speaks of hating father and mother. Luke 14:26. Christ would not have us unnatural; but if our dearest relations stand in our way, and would hinder us from Christ, either we must step over them, or know them not. Deut. 33:9. Though some drops of love may run beside to our kindred and alliance, yet the full torrent must run out after Christ; relations may lie on the bosom, but Christ must lie in the heart.
We must love God more than our estate.—"Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods." Heb. 10:34 They were glad they had any thing to lose for Christ. If the world be laid in one scale, and Christ in the other, he must weigh heaviest. And is it thus? Hath God the highest room in our affections? Plutarch saith, When a dictator was created in Rome, all other authority was for the time suspended: so when the love of God bears sway in the heart, all other love is suspended, and is as nothing in comparison of this love.
This may serve for a sharp reprehension to such as have not a dram of love to God in their hearts—and are there such miscreants alive? He who loves not God, is a beast with a man's head. Oh wretch! dost thou live upon God every day, yet not love him? If one had a friend that fed him continually with money, and gave him all his allowance, were not he worse than a barbarian, who did not respect and honour that friend? Such a friend is God, he gives thee thy breath, he bestows a livelihood upon thee, and wilt thou not love him? Thou wilt love thy prince if he saves thy life, and wilt thou not love God who gives thee thy life? What loadstone so powerful to draw love, as the blessed Deity? He is blind whom beauty does not tempt; he is sottish, who is not drawn with the cords of love. When the body is cold, and has no heat in it, it is a sign of death: that man is dead, who hath no heat of love in his soul to God. How can he expect love from God, who shows no love to him? will God ever lay such a viper in his bosom, as casts forth the poison of malice and enmity against him?
This reproof falls heavy upon the infidels of this age, who are so far from loving God, that they do all they can to show their hatred of him. "They declare their sin as Sodom." Isa. 3:9. "They set their mouth against the heavens," (Psal. 73:9.) in pride and blasphemy, and bid open defiance to God; these are monsters in nature, devils in the shape of men: let them read their doom: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema-maranatha," (1 Cor. 16:22.) that is, let him be accursed from God, till Christ's coming to judgment; let him be heir to a curse while he lives, and, at the dreadful day of the Lord, let him hear that heart-rending sentence pronounced against him, Depart, thou cursed.
discovering the sings, or fruits, of love to god
Let us try ourselves impartially, whether we are in the number of those that love God. For the deciding of this, as our love will be best seen by the fruits of it, I shall lay down fourteen signs, or fruits, of love to God, and it nearly concerns us to search carefully, whether any of these fruits grow in our garden.
I. The first fruit of love is, the musing of the mind upon God.—He who is in love, his thoughts are still upon the object. He who loves God, is ravished and transported with the contemplation of God. "When I awake, I am still with thee." Psal. 139:18. The thoughts are as travellers in the mind: David's thoughts kept heaven-road, I am still with thee. God is the treasure, and where the treasure is, there is the heart. By this we may try our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are ravished with delight, when we think on God? have our thoughts got wings? are they fled aloft? Do we contemplate Christ and glory? Oh how far are they from being lovers of God, who scarcely ever think of God! "God is not in all his thoughts." Psal. 10:4. A sinner crowds God out of his thoughts; he never thinks of God, unless with horror, as the prisoner thinks of the judge.
II. The next fruit of love is, desire of communion: love desires familiarity and intercourse. "My heart and flesh crieth out for the living God." Psal. 84:2. King David being debarred the house of God, where was the tabernacle, the visible token of his presence, he breathes after God, and, in a holy pathos of desire, cries out for the living God. Lovers would be conversing together. If we love God, we prize his ordinances, because there we meet with God: he speaks to us in his word, and we speak to him in prayer By this let us examine our love to God. Do we desire intimacy of communion with God? Lovers cannot be long far from each other. Such as love God have a holy affection, they know not how to be from him; they can bear the want of any thing but God's presence; they can do without health and friends, they can be happy without a full table, but they cannot be happy without God. "Hide not thy face from me, lest I be like them that go down into the grave." Psal. 143:7. Lovers have their fainting-fits. David was ready to faint away and die, when he had not a sight of God. They who love God cannot be contented with having ordinances, unless they may enjoy God in them; that were to lick the glass, and not the honey.
What shall we say to those who can be all their lives long without God? They think God may be best spared: they complain they want health and trading, but not that they want God! Wicked men are not acquainted with God; and how can they love, who are not acquainted! Nay, which is worse, they do not desire to be acquainted with Him. "They say to God, Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." Job 21:14. Sinners shun acquaintance with God, they count his presence a burden; and are these lovers of God? Does that woman love her husband, who cannot endure to be in his presence?
III. Another fruit of love is grief.—Where there is love to God, there is a grieving for our sins of unkindness against him. A child which loves his father, cannot but weep for offending him. The heart that burns in love, melts in tears: Oh! that I should abuse the love of so dear a Saviour! Did not my Lord suffer enough upon the cross, but must I make him suffer more? Shall I give him more gall and vinegar to drink? How disloyal and disingenuous have I been! how have I grieved his Spirit, trampled upon his royal commands, slighted his blood! This opens a vein of godly sorrow, and makes the heart bleed afresh. "Peter went out, and wept bitterly." Matt. 26:75. When Peter thought how dearly Christ loved him; how he was taken up into the mount of transfiguration, where Christ showed him the glory of heaven in a vision; that he should deny Christ after he had received such signal love from him, this broke his heart with grief: he went out, and wept bitterly.
By this let us try our love to God. Do we shed the tears of godly sorrow? Do we grieve for our unkindness against God, our abuse of mercy, our non-improvement of talents? How far are they from loving God, who sin daily, and their hearts never smite them! They have a sea of sin, and not a drop of sorrow; they are so far from being troubled, that they make merry with their sins. "When thou doest evil, then thou rejoicest." Jer. 11:15. Oh wretch! did Christ bleed for sin, and dost thou laugh at it? These are far from loving God: does he love his friend, that loves to do him an injury?
IV. Another fruit of love is, magnanimity.—Love is valorous, it turns cowardice into courage: love will make one venture upon the greatest difficulties and hazards. The fearful hen will fly upon a dog or serpent, to defend her young ones. Love infuses a spirit of gallantry and fortitude into a christian. He that loves God will stand up in his cause, and be an advocate for him. "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Acts 4:20. He who is afraid to own Christ, has but little love to him. Nicodemus came sneaking to Christ by night. John 3:2. He was fearful of being seen with him in the day-time. Love casts out fear. As the sun expels fogs and vapours, so divine love in a great measure expels carnal fear. Does he love God, that can hear his blessed truths spoken against, and be silent? He who loves his friend, will stand up for him, and vindicate him when he is reproached. Does Christ appear for us in heaven, and are we afraid to appear for him on earth? Love animates a christian; It fires his heart with zeal, and steels it with courage.
V. The fifth fruit of love is sensibility.—If we love God, our hearts ache for the dishonour done to God by wicked men. To see, not only the banks of religion, but morality, broken down, and a flood of wickedness coming in; to see God's sabbaths profaned, his oaths violated, his name dishonoured; if there be any love to God in us, we shall lay these things to heart. Lot's righteous soul was "vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked." 2 Pet. 2:7. The sins of Sodom were as so many spears to pierce his soul. How far are they from loving God, who are not at all affected with his dishonour? If they have but peace and trading, they lay nothing to heart. A man who is dead drunk, never minds, nor is sensible of it, though another be bleeding to death by him; so, many, being drunk with the wine of prosperity, when the honour of God is wounded, and his truths lie a bleeding, are not sensible of it. Did men love God, they would grieve to see his glory suffer, and religion itself become a martyr.
VI. The sixth fruit of love is hatred against sin.—Fire purges the dross from the metal. The fire of love purges out sin. "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols!" Hos. 14:8. He that loves God, will have nothing to do with sin, unless to give battle to it. Sin strikes not only at God's honour, but his being. Does he love his prince, that harbours him who is a traitor to the crown? Is he a friend to God, who loves that which God hates? The love of God, and the love of sin, cannot dwell together: the affections cannot be carried to two contrarieties at the same time. A man cannot love health, and love poison too; so, one cannot love God, and sin too. He who has any secret sin in his heart allowed, is as far from loving God, as heaven and earth are distant one from the other.
VII. Another fruit of love is crucifixion.—He who is a lover of God, is dead to the world: "I am crucified to the world." Gal. 6:14. I am dead to the honours and pleasures of it. He who is in love with God, is not much in love with any thing else. The love of God, and ardent love of the world, are inconsistent. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 1 John 2:15. Love to God swallows up all other love, as Moses' rod swallowed up the Egyptian rods. If a man could live in the sun, what a small point would all the earth be; so when a man's heart is raised above the world, in the admiring and loving God, how poor and slender are these things below! they seem as nothing in his eye. It was a sign the primitive christians loved God, because their property did not lie near their hearts; but they "laid down their money at the apostles' feet." Acts 4:35.
Try your love to God by this. What shall we think of such as have never enough of the world? they have the dropsy of covetousness, thirsting insatiably after riches: "That pant after the dust of the earth." Amos 2:7. Never talk of your love to Christ, saith Ignatius, when you prefer the world before the Pearl of price; and are there not many such, who prize their gold above God? If they have a south-land, they care not for the water of life. They will sell Christ and a good conscience for money. Will God ever bestow heaven upon them, who so basely undervalue him, preferring glittering dust, before the glorious Deity? What is there in the earth, that we should so set our hearts upon it! only the devil makes us look upon it through a multiplying glass. The world has no real intrinsic worth, it is but paint and deception.
VIII. The next fruit of love is fear.—In the godly, love and fear do kiss each other. There is a double fear arises from love. 1. A fear of displeasing. The spouse loves her husband, therefore will rather deny herself, than displease him. The more we love God, the more fearful we are of grieving his Spirit. "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Gen. 39:9. When Eudoxia the empress threatened to banish Chrysostom; Tell her (said he) I fear nothing but sin. That is a blessed love which puts a christian into a hot fit of zeal, and a cold fit of fear, making him shake and tremble, and not dare willingly to offend God.
2. A fear mixed with jealousy.—"Eli's heart trembled for the ark." 1 Sam. 4:13. It is not said, his heart trembled for Hophni and Phinehas, his two sons, but his heart trembled for the ark, because, if the ark were taken, then the glory was departed. He that loves God is full of fear lest it should go ill with the church; he fears lest profaneness (which is the plague of leprosy) should increase, lest popery get footing, lest God should go from his people. The presence of God in his ordinances, is the beauty and strength of a nation. So long as God's presence is with a people, so long they are safe; but the soul inflamed with love to God, fears lest the visible tokens of God's presence should be removed.
By this touchstone let us try our love to God. Many fear lest peace and trading go, but not lest God and his gospel go. Are these lovers of God? He who loves God is more afraid of the loss of spiritual blessings than temporal. If the Sun of righteousness remove out of our horizon, what can follow but darkness? what comfort can an organ or anthem give, if the gospel be gone? is it not like the sound of a trumpet, or a volley of shot at a funeral?
IX. If we are lovers of God, we love what God loves.
1. We love God's word.—David esteemed the word, for the sweetness of it, above honey, Psal. 119:103. and for the value of it, above gold. Psal. 119:72. The lines of scripture are richer than the mines of gold. Well may we love the word; it is the load-star that directs us to heaven, it is the field in which the Pearl is hid. That man who loves not the word, but thinks it too strict, and could wish any part of the bible torn out (as an adulterer did the seventh commandment) he hath not the least spark of love in his heart.
2. We love God's day:—we do not only keep a sabbath, but love a sabbath. "If thou call the sabbath a delight." Isa. 58:13. The sabbath is that which keeps up the face of religion amongst us; this day must be consecrated as glorious to the Lord. The house of God is the palace of the great King; on the sabbath God shows himself there through the lattice. If we love God, we prize his day above all other days All the week would be dark, if it were not for this day; on this day manna falls double. Now, if ever, heaven-gate stands open, and God comes down in a golden shower. This blessed day the Sun of righteousness rises upon the soul. How does a gracious heart prize that day, which was made on purpose to enjoy God in.
3. We love God's laws.—A gracious soul is glad of the law, because it checks his sinful exorbitances. The heart would be ready to run wild in sin, if it had not some blessed restraints put upon it by the law of God. He that loves God, loves his law, the law of repentance, the law of self-denial. Many say they love God, but they hate his laws. "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." Psal. 2:3. God's precepts are compared to cords, they bind men to their good behaviour; but the wicked think these cords too strait, therefore they say, Let us break them. They pretend to love Christ as a Saviour, but hate him as a King. Christ tells us of his yoke. Matt. 11:29. Sinners would have Christ put a crown upon their head, but not a yoke upon their neck. He were a strange king that should rule without laws.
4. We love God's picture, we love his image shining in the saints.—"He that loves Him that begat, loves him also that is begotten of him." 1 John 5:1. It is possible to love a saint, yet not to love him as a saint; we may love him for something else, for his ingenuity, or because he is affable and bountiful. A beast loves a man, but not as he is a man, but because he feeds him, and gives him provender. But to love a saint as he is a saint, this is a sign of love to God. If we love a saint for his saintship, as having something of God in him, then we love him in these four cases.
(1.) We love a saint, though he be poor.—A man that loves gold, loves a piece of gold, though it be in a rag: so, though a saint be in rags, we love him, because there is something of Christ in him.
(2.) We love a saint, though he has many personal failings.—There is no perfection here. In some, rash anger prevails; in some, inconstancy; in some, too much love of the world. A saint in this life is like gold in the ore, much dross of infirmity cleaves to him, yet we love him for the grace that is in him. A saint is like a fair face with a scar: we love the beautiful face of holiness, though there be a scar in it. The best emerald has its blemishes, the brightest stars their twinklings, and the best of the saints have their failings. Thou that canst not love another because of his infirmities, how wouldest thou have God love thee?
(3.) We love the saints though in some lesser things they differ from us. Perhaps another christian has not so much light as thou, and that may make him err in some things; wilt thou presently un-saint him because he cannot come up to thy light? Where there is union in fundamentals, there ought to be union in affections.
(4.) We love the saints, though they are persecuted.—We love precious metal, though it be in the furnace. St. Paul did bear in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Gal. 6:17. Those marks were, like the soldier's scars, honourable. We must love a saint as well in chains as in scarlet. If we love Christ, we love his persecuted members.
If this be love to God, when we love his image sparkling in the saints, oh then, how few lovers of God are to be found! Do they love God, who hate them that are like God? Do they love Christ's person, who are filled with a spirit of revenge against his people? How can that wife be said to love her husband, who tears his picture? Surely Judas and Julian are not yet dead, their spirit yet lives in the world. Who are guilty but the innocent! What greater crime than holiness, if the devil may be one of the grand jury! Wicked men seem to bear great reverence to the saints departed; they canonize dead saints, but persecute living. In vain do men stand up at the creed, and tell the world they believe in God, when they abominate one of the articles of the creed, namely, the communion of saints. Surely, there is not a greater sign of a man ripe for hell, than this, not only to want grace, but to hate it.
X. Another blessed sign of love, is to entertain good thoughts of God.—He that loves his friend, construes what his friend doth, in the best sense. "Love thinketh no evil." 1 Cor. 13:5. Malice interprets all in the worst sense; love interprets all in the best sense: it is an excellent commentator upon providence; it thinks no evil. He that loves God, hath a good opinion of God; though he afflicts sharply, the soul takes all well. This is the language of a gracious spirit: My God sees what a hard heart I have, therefore he drives in one wedge of affliction after another, to break my heart; he knows how full I am of bad humours, how sick of a pleurisy, therefore he lets blood, to save my life; this severe dispensation is either to mortify some corruption, or to exercise some grace: how good is God, that will not let me alone in my sins, but smites my body to save my soul! Thus he that loves God takes every thing in good part. Love puts a candid gloss upon all God's actions. Thou who art apt to to murmur at God, as if he had dealt ill with thee, be humbled for this; say thus with thyself, If I loved God more, I should have better thoughts of God. It is Satan that makes us have good thoughts of ourselves, and hard thoughts of God. Love takes all in the fairest sense; it thinketh no evil.
XI. Another fruit of love is obedience.—"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." John 14:21. It is a vain thing to say we love Christ's person, if we slight his commands. Does that child love his father, who refuses to obey him? If we love God, we shall obey him in those things which cross flesh and blood.—1. In things difficult, and 2. In things dangerous.
1. In things difficult.—As, in mortifying sin. There are some sins which are not only near to us as the garment, but dear to us as the eye. If we love God, we shall set ourselves against these, both in purpose and practice. Also, in forgiving our enemies. God commands us upon pain of death to forgive. "Forgive one another." Ephes. 4:32. This is hard; it is crossing the stream; we are apt to forget kindnesses, and remember injuries; but if we love God, we shall pass by offences. When we seriously consider how many talents God has forgiven us, how many affronts and provocations he has put up with at our hands; this makes us write after his copy, and endeavour rather to bury an injury, than to retaliate it.
2. In things dangerous.—When God calls us to suffer for him, we shall obey. Love made Christ suffer for us; love was the chain that fastened him to the cross; so, if we love God, we shall be willing to suffer for him. Love has a strange quality, it is the least suffering grace, and yet it is the most suffering grace. It is the least suffering grace in one sense; it will not suffer known sin to lie in the soul unrepented of, it will not suffer abuses and dishonours done to God; thus it is the least suffering grace: yet it is the most suffering grace, it will suffer reproaches, bonds, and imprisonments, for Christ's sake. "I am ready not only to be bound, but to die, for the name of the Lord Jesus." Acts 21:13. It is true, that every christian is not a martyr, but he has the spirit of martyrdom in him. He saith as Paul, "I am ready to be bound;" he has a disposition of mind to suffer, if God call. Love will carry men out above their own strength. Tertullian observes how much the heathen suffered for love to their country. If the spring-head of nature rises so high, surely grace will rise higher. If love to their country will make men suffer, much more should love to Christ. "Love endureth all things." 1 Cor. 13:7. Basil speaks of a virgin condemned to the fire, who having her life and estate offered her, if she would fall down to the idol, answered, Let life and money go, welcome Christ. It was a noble and zealous speech of Ignatius, Let me be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, if I may be God's pure wheat. How did divine affection carry the primitive saints above the love of life, and the fear of death! St. Stephen was stoned, St. Luke hanged on an olive-tree, St. Peter crucified at Jerusalem with his head downwards. These divine heroes were willing to suffer, rather than by their cowardice to make the name of God suffer. How did St. Paul prize his chain that he wore for Christ! he gloried in it, as a woman that is proud of her jewels, saith Chrysostom. And holy Ignatius wore his fetters as a bracelet of diamonds. "Not accepting deliverance." Heb. 11:35. They refused to come out of prison on sinful terms, they preferred their innocency before their liberty.
By this let us try our love to God: Have we the spirit of martyrdom? Many say they love God, but how does it appear? They will not forego the least comfort, or undergo the least cross, for his sake. If Jesus Christ should have said to us, I love you well, you are dear to me, but I cannot suffer, I cannot lay down my life for you, we should have questioned his love very much; and may not Christ suspect us, when we pretend love to him, and yet will endure nothing for him?
XII. He who loves God will endeavour to make him appear glorious in the eyes of others.—Such as are in love will be commending and setting forth the amiableness of those persons whom they love. If we love God, we shall spread abroad his excellences, that so we may raise his fame and esteem, and may induce others to fall in love with him. Love cannot be silent, we shall be as so many trumpets, sounding forth the freeness of God's grace, the transcendency of his love, and the glory of his kingdom. Love is like fire: where it burns in the heart, it will break forth at the lips; it will be elegant and pathetical in setting forth God's praise: love must have vent.
XIII. Another fruit of love is, to long for Christ's appearing.—"Henceforth there is a crown of righteousness laid up for me, and not for me only, but for them which love Christ's appearing." 2 Tim. 4:8. Love desires union; Aristotle gives the reason, Because joy flows upon union. When our union with Christ is perfect in glory, then our joy will be full. He that loves Christ loves his appearing. Christ's appearing will be a happy appearing to the saints. His appearing now, is very comfortable, when he appears for us as an Advocate. Heb. 9:24. But the other appearing will be infinitely more so, when he shall appear for us as our Husband; he will at that day bestow two jewels upon us. His love; a love so great and astonishing, that it is better felt than expressed. And his likeness. "When he shall appear, we shall be like him." 1 John 3:2 And from both these, love and likeness, infinite joy will flow into the soul. No wonder then that he who loves Christ, longs for his appearance. "The Spirit and the bride say come; even so come, Lord Jesus." Rev. 22:17, 20. By this let us try our love to Christ. A wicked man who is self-condemned, is afraid of Christ's appearing, and wishes he would never appear; but such as love Christ, are joyful to think of his coming in the clouds; they shall then be delivered from all their sins and fears, they shall be acquitted before men and angels, and shall be for ever translated into the paradise of God.
XIV. Love will make us stoop to the meanest offices.—Love is a humble grace, it does not walk abroad in state, it will creep upon its hands, it will stoop and submit to any thing whereby it may be serviceable to Christ. As we see in Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, both of them honourable persons, yet one takes down Christ's body with his own hands, and the other embalms it with sweet odours; it might seem much for persons of their rank to be employed in that service, but love made them do it. If we love God, we shall not think any work too mean for us, wherein we may be helpful to Christ's members. Love is not squeamish, it will visit the sick, relieve the poor, wash the saints' wounds. The mother that loves her child, is not coy and nice, she will do those things about her child which others would scorn to do. He who loves God will humble himself to the meanest office of love to Christ and his members. These are the fruits of love to God. Happy are they who can find these outlandish fruits, these fruits so foreign to their natures, growing in their souls.
an exhortation to love god
First. Let me earnestly persuade all who bear the name of christians, to become lovers of God. "O love the Lord, all ye his saints." Psalm 31:23. There are but few that love God: many give him hypocritical kisses, but few love him. It is not so easy to love God, as most imagine. The affection of love is natural, but the grace is not. Men are by nature haters of God. Rom. 1:30. The wicked would flee from God; they would neither be under his rules, nor within his reach? they fear God, but do not love him. All the strength in men or angels, cannot make the heart love God. Ordinances will not do it of themselves, nor judgments; it is only the almighty and invincible power of the Spirit of God, can infuse love into the soul; this being so hard a work, it calls upon us for the more earnest prayer and endeavour after this angelical grace of love. To excite and inflame our desires after it, I shall prescribe twenty motives for loving God.
I. Without this, all our religion is vain.—It is not duty, but love to duty, God looks at. It is not how much we do, but how much we love. If a servant does not his work willingly, and out of love, it is not acceptable. Duties not mingled with love, are as burdensome to God, as they are to us. David therefore counsels his son Solomon to serve God with a willing mind. 1 Chron. 28:9. To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.
II Love is the most noble and excellent grace, it is a pure flame kindled from heaven, by it we resemble God, who is love.—Believing and obeying do not make us like God, but by love we grow like him. 1 John 4:16. Love is a grace which most delights in God, and is most delightful to him. That disciple who was most full of love, lay in Christ's bosom. Love puts a verdure and lustre upon all the graces: the graces seem to be eclipsed, unless love shine and sparkle in them. Faith is not true, unless it work by love: the waters of repentance are not pure, unless they flow from the spring of love. Love is the incense which makes all our services fragrant and acceptable to God.
III. Is that unreasonable which God requires?—It is but our love: if he should ask our estate, or the fruit of our bodies, could we deny him? but he asks only our love; he would only pick this flower: is this a hard request? was there ever any debt so easily paid as this? we do not at all impoverish ourselves by paying it. Love is no burden. Is it any labour for the bride to love her husband? Love is delightful.
IV. God is the most adequate and complete object of our love.—All the excellencies that lie scattered in the creatures, are united in him; he is a magazine of blessings; he is wisdom, beauty, love, yea, the very essence of goodness; there is nothing in God can cause a loathing; the creature sooner surfeits than satisfies; but there are fresh beauties sparkling forth in God; the more we enjoy of him, the more we are ravished with delight.
There is nothing in God to deaden our affections or quench our love; no infirmity, no deformity, such as usually weaken and cool love. There is that excellence in God, which may not only invite, but command our love. If there were more angels in heaven than there are, and all those glorious seraphim had an immense flame of love burning in their breasts to eternity, yet could they not love God equivalently to that infinite perfection and transcendency of goodness which is in him. Surely then here is enough to induce us to love God—we cannot spend our love upon a better object.
V. Love facilitates religion.—It oils the wheels of the affections, and makes them more lively and cheerful in God's service. Love takes off the tediousness of duty. Jacob thought seven years but little, for the love he bore to Rachel. Love makes duty a pleasure. Why are the angels so swift and winged in God's service? it is because they love him. Love is never weary. He that loves God, is never weary of telling it: he that loves God, is never weary of serving him.
VI. God desires our love.—We have lost our beauty, and stained our blood, yet the King of heaven is a suitor to us. What is there in our love, that God should seek it? What is God the better for our love? he does not want it, he is infinitely blessed in himself; if we deny him our love, he has more sublime creatures who pay the cheerful tribute of love to him. God does not need our love, yet he seeks it.
VII. God has deserved our love; how hath he loved us!—Our affections should be kindled at the fire of God's love. What a miracle of love is it, that God should love us, when there was nothing lovely in us. "When thou wast in thy blood, I said unto thee, Live." Ezekiel 16:6. The time of our loathing was the time of God's loving. We had something in us to provoke fury, but nothing to excite love. What love, passing understanding, was it, to give Christ to us! that Christ should die for sinners! God has set all the angels in heaven wondering at this love. Augustine says, The cross is a pulpit, and the lesson Christ preached on it is, love. Oh the living love of a dying Saviour! Methinks I see Christ upon the cross bleeding all over! methinks I hear him say to us, Reach hither your hands, put them into my sides, feel my bleeding heart, see if I love you not, and will you not bestow your love upon me? will you love the world more than me? did the world appease the wrath of God for you? Have not I done all this? and will you not love me? It is natural to love where we are loved. Christ having set us a copy of love, and written it with his blood, let us labour to write after so fair a copy, and to imitate him in love.
VIII. Love to God is the best self-love.—It is self-love to get the soul saved; by loving God, we forward our own salvation. "He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." 1 John 4:16. And he is sure to dwell with God in heaven, that has God dwelling in his heart. So that to love God is the truest self-love: he that does not love God, does not love himself.
IX. Love to God evidences sincerity.—"The upright love thee." Cant. 1:4. Many a child of God fears he is a hypocrite. Dost thou love God? When Peter was dejected with the sense of his sin, he thought himself unworthy that ever Christ should take notice of him, or employ him more in the work of his apostleship; see how Christ goes about to comfort him. "Peter, lovest thou me?" John 21:15. As if Christ had said, Though thou hast denied me through fear, yet if thou canst say from thy heart thou lovest me, thou art sincere and upright. To love God is a better sign of sincerity, than to fear him. The Israelites feared God's justice. "When he slew them, they sought him, and inquired early after God." Psalm 78:34. But what came all this to? "Nevertheless, they did but flatter him with their mouth, and lied to him with their tongue; for their heart was not right with him." (36, 37 verses.) That repentance is no better than flattery, which arises only from fear of God's judgments, and has no love mixed with it. Loving God evidences that God has the heart; and if the heart be his, that will command all the rest.
X. By our love to God, we may conclude God's love to us.—"We love him, because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19. O, saith the soul, if I knew God loved me, I could rejoice. Dost thou love God? then thou mayest be sure of God's love to thee. As it is with burning glasses; if the glass burn, it is because the sun has first shined upon it, else it could not burn; so if our hearts burn in love to God, it is because God's love has first shined upon us, else we could not burn in love. Our love is nothing but the reflection of God's love.
XI. If you do not love God, you will love something else; either the world or sin; and are those worthy of your love? Is it not better to love God than these? It is better to love God than the world, as appears in these eight particulars.
1. If you set your love on worldly things, they will not satisfy;—you may as well satisfy your body with air, as your soul with earth. "In the fulness of his sufficiency, he shall be in straits." Job 20:22. Plenty has its penury. If the globe of the world were yours, it would not fill your soul. And will you set your love on that which will never give you content? Is it not better to love God? He will give you that which shall satisfy. "When I awake, I shall be satisfied with thy likeness." Psalm 17:15. When I awake out of the sleep of death, and shall have some of the rays and beams of God's glory put upon me, I shall then be satisfied with his likeness.
2. If thou love worldly things, they cannot remove trouble of mind;—if there be a thorn in the conscience, all the world cannot pluck it out. King Saul, being perplexed in mind, all his crown jewels could not comfort him. 1 Sam. 28:15. But if you love God, he can give you peace when nothing else can; he can turn the "shadow of death into the morning." Amos 5:8. He can apply Christ's blood, to refresh your soul; he can whisper his love by the Spirit, and with one smile scatter all your fears and disquiets.
3. If you love the world, you love that which may hinder you of heaven.—Worldly contentments may be compared to the waggons in an army; while the soldiers have been victualling themselves at the waggons, they have lost the battle. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" Mark 10:23. Prosperity, to many, is like the sail to the boat, which quickly overturns it; so that by loving the world, you love that which will endanger you, but if you love God, there is no fear of losing heaven; he will be a rock to hide you, but not to hurt you: by loving him, we come to enjoy him.
4. You may love worldly things, and they cannot love you again.—You love gold and silver, but your gold cannot love you again; you love a picture, but the picture cannot love you again; you give away your love to the creature, and receive no love back; but if you love God, he will love you again. "If any man love me, my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." John 14:23. God will not be behindhand in love to us: for our drop, we shall receive an ocean.
5. When you love the world, you love that which is worse than yourselves.—The soul, as Damascen saith, is a sparkle of celestial brightness, it carries in it an idea and resemblance of God; while you love the world, you love that which is infinitely below the worth of your souls. Will any one lay out cost upon sackcloth? When thou layest out thy love upon the world, thou hangest a pearl upon a swine, thou lovest that which is inferior to thyself. As Christ speaks in another sense of the fowls of the air, "Are ye not much better than they?" (Matt. 6:26.) so I say of worldly things, Are not ye much better than they? You love a fair house, a beautiful picture; are not you much better than they? But if you love God, you place your love on the most noble, and sublime object; you love that which is better than yourselves: God is better than the soul, better than angels, better than heaven.
6. You may love the world, and have hatred for your love.—"Because you are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you." John 15:19. Would it not vex one to lay out money upon a piece of ground, which, instead of bringing forth corn or grapes, should yield nothing but nettles? Thus it is with all sublunary things: we love them, and they prove nettles to sting. We meet with nothing but disappointment. "Let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon." Judg. 9:15. While we love the creature, fire comes out of this bramble to devour us; but if we love God, he will not return hatred for love. "I love them that love me." Prov. 8:17. God may chastise, but he cannot hate. Every believer is part of Christ, and God can as well hate Christ as hate a believer.
7. You may over-love the creature.—You may love wine too much, and silver too much; but you cannot love God too much. If it were possible to exceed, excess here were a virtue; but it is our sin, that we cannot love God enough. "How weak is thy heart!" Ezek. 16:30. So it may be said, How weak is our love to God! It is like water of the last drawing from the still, which has less spirit in it. If we could love God far more than we do, yet it were not proportionable to his worth; so that there is no danger of excess in our love to God.
8. You may love worldly things, and they die and leave you.—Riches take wings, relations drop away. There is nothing here abiding; the creature has a little honey in its mouth, but it has wings, it will soon fly away, But if you love God, he is "a portion for ever." Psal. 73:26. As he is called a Sun for comfort, so a Rock for eternity; he abides for ever. Thus we see it is better to love God than the world.
If it is better to love God than the world, surely also it is better to love God than sin.—What is there in sin, that any should love it? Sin is a debt. "Forgive us our debts." Matt. 6:12. It is a debt which binds over to the wrath of God, why should we love sin? Does any man love to be in debt? Sin is a disease. "The whole head is sick." Isa. 1:5. And wilt thou love sin? will any man hug a disease? will he love his plaguesores? Sin is a pollution. The apostle calls it "filthiness." James 1:21. It is compared to leprosy and to poison of asps. God's heart riseth against sinners. "My soul loathed them.' Zech 11:8. Sin is a misshapen monster: lust makes a man brutish, malice makes him devilish What is in sin to be loved? Shall we love deformity? Sin is an enemy. It is compared to a "serpent," Prov. 23:32. It has four stings; shame, guilt, horror, death. Will a man love that which seeks his death? Surely then it is better to love God than sin. God will save thee, sin will damn thee; is not he become foolish who loves damnation?
XII. The relation we stand in to God calls for love.—There is near affinity. "Thy Maker is thy husband." Isa. 54:5. And shall not a wife love her husband? He is full of tenderness: his spouse is to him as the apple of his eye, he rejoices over her, as the bridegroom over the bride. Isa. 62:5. He loves the believer, as he loves Christ. John 17:26. The same love for quality, though not equally. Either we must love God, or we give ground of suspicion that we are not yet united to him.
XIII. Love is the most abiding grace.—This will stay with us when other graces take their farewell. In heaven we shall need no repentance, because we shall have no sin; in heaven we shall not need patience, because there will be no affliction; in heaven we shall need no faith. Faith looks at things unseen. Heb. 11:1. But then we shall see God face to face; and where there is vision, there needs no faith.
But when the other graces are out of date, love continues; and in this sense the apostle saith, love is greater than faith, because it abides the longest. "Charity never faileth." 1 Cor. 13:8. Faith is the staff we walk with in this life. "We walk by faith." 2 Cor. 5:7. But we shall set this staff at heaven's door, and only love shall enter. Thus love carries away the crown from all the other graces. Love is the most long-lived grace, it is a blossom of eternity. How should we strive to excel in this grace, which alone shall live with us in heaven, and shall accompany us to the marriage-supper of the Lamb!
XIV. Love to God will never let sin thrive in the heart.—Some plants will not thrive when they are near together: the love of God withers sin: though the old man live, yet as a sick man, it is weak, and draws its breath short. The flower of love kills the weed of sin; though sin does not die perfectly yet it dies daily. How should we labour for that grace which is the only corrosive to destroy sin.
XV. Love to God is an excellent means for growth of grace.—"But grow in grace." 2 Pet. 3:18. Growth in grace is very pleasing to God. Christ accepts the truth of grace, but commends the degrees of grace; and what can more promote and augment grace, than love to God? Love is like watering of the root, which makes the tree grow: therefore the apostle uses this expression in his prayer "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God." 2 Thess. 3:5. He knew this grace of love would nurse and cherish all the graces.
XVI. The great benefit which will accrue to us, if we love God.—"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." 1 Cor. 2:9. The eye hath seen rare sights, the ear hath heard sweet music; but eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor can the heart of man conceive, what God hath prepared for them that love him! Such glorious rewards are laid up, that, as Augustine saith, faith itself is not able to comprehend. God has promised a crown of life to them that love him. James 1:12. This crown encircles within it all blessedness—riches, and glory, and delight: and it is a crown that fades not away. 1 Pet. 5:4. Thus God would draw us to him by rewards.
XVII. Love to God is armour of proof against error.—For want of hearts full of love, men have heads full of error; unholy opinions are for want of holy affections. Why are men given up to strong delusions, but because "they receive not the truth in love?" 2 Thess. 2:10, 11. The more we love God, the more we hate those heterodox opinions that would draw us off from God into libertinism.
XVIII. If we love God, we have all winds blowing for us, every thing in the world shall conspire for our good:—We know not what fiery trials we may meet with, but to them that love God all things shall work for good. Those things which work against them, shall work for them; their cross shall make way for a crown; every wind shall blow them to the heavenly port.
XIX. Want of love to God is the ground of apostacy.—The seed in the parable, which had no root, fell away: he who has not the love of God rooted in his heart will fall away in time of temptation. He who loves God will cleave to him, as Ruth to Naomi. "Where thou goest I will go and where thou diest I will die." Ruth 1:16, 17. But he who wants love to God will do as Orpah to her mother-in-law; she kissed her, and took her farewell of her. That soldier who has no love to his commander, when he sees an opportunity, will leave him, and run over to the enemy's side. He who has no love in his heart to God, you may set him down for an apostate.
XX. Love is the only thing in which we can retaliate with God.—If God be angry with us, we must not be angry again; if he chide us, we must not chide him again; but if God loves us, we must love him again: there is nothing in which we can answer God again, but love: we must not give him word for word, but we must give him love for love.
Thus we have seen twenty motives to excite and inflame our love to God.
Question. How shall we do to love God?
Answer. 1. Study God:—did we study him more, we should love him more. Take a view of his superlative excellencies, his holiness, his incomprehensible goodness. The angels know God better than we, and clearly behold the splendour of his majesty, therefore they are so deeply enamoured with him.
2. Labour for an interest in God.—"O God, thou art my God." Psal. 63:1. That pronoun 'my,' is a sweet loadstone to love; a man loves that which is his own. The more we believe, the more we love: faith is the root, and love is the flower that grows upon it. "Faith which worketh by love." Gal. 5:6.
3. Make it your earnest request to God, that he will give you a heart to love him;—this is an acceptable request, surely God will not deny it. When king Solomon asked wisdom of God, "Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart," 1 Kings 3:9. "the speech pleased the Lord," 10 verse. So when thou criest to God, Lord, give me a heart to love thee; it is my grief, I can love thee no more; O kindle this fire from heaven upon the altar of my heart! Surely this prayer pleases the Lord, and he will pour of his Spirit upon thee, whose golden oil shall make the lamp of thy love burn bright.
Secondly. You who have love to God, labour to preserve it; let not this love die, and be quenched.
As you would have God's love to be continued to you, let your love be continued to him. Love, as fire, will be ready to go out. "Thou hast left thy first love." Rev. 2:4. Satan labours to blow out this flame, and through neglect of duty we lose it. When a tender body leaves off clothes, it is apt to get cold: so when we leave off duty, by degrees we cool in our love to God. Of all graces, love is soonest apt to decay; therefore we had need to be the more careful to preserve it. If a man has a jewel, he will keep it; if he has land of inheritance, he will keep it; what care then should we have to keep this grace of love! It is sad to see professors declining in their love to God; many are in a spiritual consumption, their love is decaying.
There are four signs, whereby christians may know that their love is in a consumption.
1. When they have lost their taste.—He that is in a deep consumption, has no taste; he finds not that savoury relish in his meat, as formerly. So when christians have lost their taste, and they find no sweetness in a promise, it is a sign of a spiritual consumption. "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." 1 Pet. 2:3. Time was, when they found comfort in drawing nigh to God. His word was as the dropping honey, very delicious to the palate of their soul: but now it is otherwise; they can taste no more sweetness in spiritual things, than in the "white of an egg." Job 6:6. This is a sign they are in a consumption; to lose the taste, argues the loss of the first love.
2. When christians have lost their appetite.—A man in a deep consumption, has not that relish for his meat as formerly. Time was when christians did "hunger and thirst after righteousness." Matt. 5:6. They minded things of a heavenly aspect, the grace of the Spirit, the blood of the cross, the light of God's countenance; they had a longing for ordinances, and came to them as a hungry man to a feast; but now the case is altered, they have no appetite, they do not so prize Christ, they have not such strong affections to the word, their hearts do not burn within them; a sad presage, they are in a consumption, their love is decaying. It was a sign David's natural strength was abated, when they covered him with clothes, and yet he gat no heat. 1 Kings 1. 1. So when men are plied with hot clothes, (I mean ordinances,) yet they have no heat of affection, but are cold and stiff, as if they were ready to be laid forth; this is a sign their first love is declined, they are in a deep consumption.
3. When christians grow more in love with the world, it argues the decrease of spiritual love.—They were once of a sublime, heavenly temper: they did speak the language of Canaan; but now they are like the fish in the gospel, which had "money in its mouth." Matt. 17:27. They cannot lisp out three words, but one is about mammon; their thoughts and affections, like Satan, are still compassing the earth; a sign they are going down the hill apace, their love to God is in a consumption. We may observe, when nature decays and grows weaker, persons go more stooping: and truly, when the heart goes more stooping to the earth, and is so bowed together, that it can scarcely lift up itself to a heavenly thought, it is now sadly declining in its first love. When rust cleaves to metal, it not only takes away the brightness of the metal, but it cankers and consumes it: so when the earth cleaves to men's souls, it not only hinders the shining lustre of their graces, but by degrees it cankers them.
4. When christians make little reckoning of God's worship; duties of religion are performed in a dead, formal manner;—If they are not left undone, yet they are ill done. This is a sad symptom of a spiritual consumption; remissness in duty, shows a decay in our first love. The strings of a viol being slack, the viol can never make good music; when men grow slack in duty, they pray as if they prayed not; this can never make any harmonious sound in God's ears. When the spiritual motion is slow and heavy, and the pulse of the soul beats low, it is a sign that christians have left their first love.
Let us take heed of this spiritual consumption; it is dangerous to abate in our love. Love is such a grace as we know not how to be without. A soldier may as well be without his weapons, an artist without his pencil, a musician without his instrument, as a christian can be without love. The body cannot want its natural heat. Love is to the soul, as the natural heat is to the body, there is no living without it. Love influences the graces, it excites the affections, it makes us grieve for sin, it makes us cheerful in God; it is like oil to the wheels; it quickens us in God's service. How careful then should we be to keep alive divine love.
Question. How may we keep our love from going out?
Answer. Watch your hearts every day; take notice of the first declinings in grace; observe yourselves when you begin to grow dull and listless. and use all means for quickening; be much in prayer, meditation, and holy conference. When the fire is going out you throw on fuel: so when the flame of your love is going out, make use of ordinances, and gospel promises, as fuel to keep the fire of your love burning.
Thirdly. Let me exhort christians to increase in love to God.—Let your love be raised up higher. "And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more." Phil. 1:9. Our love to God should be as the light of the morning; first there is the day-break, then it shines brighter to the full meridian. They who have a few sparks of love should blow up those divine sparks into a flame. A christian should not be content with so small a dram of grace, as may make him scruple whether he has any grace or not, but should be still improving the stock. He who has little gold, would have more; you who love God a little, labour to love him more. A godly man is contented with a very little of the world, yet he is never satisfied, but would have more of the Spirit's influence, and labours to add one degree of love to another. To persuade christians to put more oil to the lamp, and increase the flame of their love, let me propose these four divine incentives.
1. The growth of love evinces its truth.—If I see the almond tree bud and flourish, I know there is life in the root. Paint will not grow; a hypocrite, who is but a picture, will not grow; but where we see love to God increasing and growing larger, as Elisha's cloud, we may conclude it is true and genuine.
2. By the growth of love we imitate the saints in the bible—their love to God, like the waters of the sanctuary, did rise higher. The disciples' love to Christ at first was weak, they fled from Christ, but after Christ's death it grew more vigorous, and they made an open profession of him. Peter's love at first was more infirm and languid, he denied Christ, but afterwards how boldly did he preach him! When Christ put him to a trial of his love, "Simon, lovest thou me?" (John 21:16.) Peter could make his humble yet confident appeal to Christ, "Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." Thus that tender plant which before was blown down with the wind of a temptation, now is grown into a cedar, which all the powers of hell cannot shake.
3. The growth of love will amplify the reward.—The more we burn in love, the more we shall shine in glory: the higher our love, the brighter our crown.
4. The more we love God, the more love we shall have from him.—Would we have God unbosom the sweet secrets of his love to us? would we have the smiles of his face? O then let us strive for higher degrees of love. St. Paul counted gold and pearl but dung for Christ. Phil. 3:8. Yea, he was so inflamed with love to God, that he could have wished himself "accursed from Christ, for his brethren the Jews." Rom. 9:3. Not that he could be accursed from Christ; but such was his fervent love and pious zeal for the glory of God, that he would have been content to have suffered, even beyond what is fit to speak, if God might have had more honour.
Here was love screwed up to the highest pitch that it was possible for a mortal to arrive at; and behold how near he lay to God's heart! the Lord takes him up to heaven a while, and lays him in his bosom, where he had such a glorious sight of God, and heard those "unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." 2 Cor. 12:4. Never was any man a loser by his love to God.
If our love to God does not increase, it will soon decrease: if the fire be not blown up, it will quickly go out. Therefore christians should above all things endeavour to cherish and excite their love to God. This exhortation will be out of date when we come to heaven, for then our light shall be clear, and our love perfect; but now it is in season to exhort, that our love to God may abound yet more and more.
Watson, T. (1846). A Divine Cordial; The Saint's Spiritual Delight; The Holy Eucharist; and Other Treatises (pp. 71–142). The Religious Tract Society.
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