An exhortation to love God
1. An exhortation. 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 (Romans 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 angelic grace of love. To excite and inflame our desires after it, I shall prescribe twenty motives for loving God.
(1). 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 do 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 Chronicles 28:9). To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.
(2). 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 works 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.
(3). 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.
(4). 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 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 transcendence 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.
(5). 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.
(6). 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 need 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.
(7). God has deserved our love; how has 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! I think I see Christ upon the cross bleeding all over! I think I hear Him say to us, "Reach hither your hands. Put them into My sides. Feel My bleeding heart. See if I do not love you. 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 I not 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.
(8). 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" (I John iv.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.
(9). Love to God evidences sincerity. "The upright love thee" (Cant. i.4). Many a child of God fears he is a hypocrite. Do you 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 did all this come 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" (verses 36, 37). 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.
(10). By our love to God, we may conclude God's love to us. "We love him, because he first loved us" (I John iv.19). Oh, says the soul, if I knew God loved me, I could rejoice! Do you love God? Then you may be sure of God's love to you. 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.
(11). 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 the following particulars.
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 fullness 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 contentment? 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.
If you 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 Samuel 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.
If you love the world, you love that which may keep you out of heaven. Worldly contentments may be compared to the wagons in an army; while the soldiers have been victualling themselves at the wagons, 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.
You may love worldly things, but they cannot love you in return. You love gold and silver, but your gold cannot love you in return. You love a picture, but the picture cannot love you in return. You give away your love to the creature, and receive no love back. But if you love God, He will love you in return. "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.
When you love the world, you love that which is worse than yourselves. The soul, as Damascen says, 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 you lay out your love upon the world, you hang a pearl upon a swine, you love that which is inferior to yourself. As Christ speaks in another sense of the fowls of the air, "Are ye nor much better than they?" (Matthew 6:26), so I say of worldly things, Are ye not much better than they? You love a fair house, a beautiful picture; are you not 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.
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" (Judges 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" (Proverbs 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.
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!" (Ezekiel 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 proportionate to His worth; so that there is no danger of excess in our love to God.
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" (Psalm 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" (Matthew 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" (Isaiah 1:5). And will you love sin? Will any man hug a disease? Will he love his plague sores? 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 rises against sinners. "My soul loathed them" (Zechariah 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" (Proverbs 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 you, sin will damn you; is he not become foolish who loves damnation?
(12). The relation we stand in to God calls for love. There is near affinity. "Thy Maker is thy husband" (Isaiah 54:5). And shall a wife not 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 (Isaiah 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.
(13). 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 because faith looks at things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). But then we shall see God face to face; and where there is vision, there is no need of faith.
But when the other graces are out of date, love continues; and in this sense the apostle says that love is greater than faith, because it abides the longest. "Charity never faileth" (1 Corinthians 13:8). Faith is the staff we walk with in this life. "We walk by faith" (2 Corinthians 5:7). But we shall leave 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!
(14). 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!
(15). Love to God is an excellent means for growth of grace. "But grow in grace" (2 Peter 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 Thessalonians 3:5). He knew this grace of love would nurse and cherish all the graces.
(16). 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 Corinthians 2:9). The eye has seen rare sights, the ear has heard sweet music; but eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor can the heart of man conceive what God has prepared for them that love Him! Such glorious rewards are laid up that, as Augustine says, 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 Peter 5:4). Thus God would draw us to Him by rewards.
(17). 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? Because "they receive not the love of truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:10, 11). The more we love God, the more we hate those heterodox opinions that would draw us off from God into libertinism.
(18). If we love God, we have all winds blowing for us, everything 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.
(19). Want of love to God is the ground of apostasy. 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.
(20). 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. What shall we do to love God?
Answer. 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.
Labour for an interest in God. "O God, thou art my God" (Psalm 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" (Galatians 5:6).
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" (verse 10). So when you cry to God, "Lord, give me a heart to love Thee. It is my grief, I can love Thee no more. Oh, 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 you, whose golden oil shall make the lamp of your love burn bright.
2. An exhortation to preserve your love to God.
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" (Revelation 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 most 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 by which 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 does not find that savoury relish in his food 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 Peter 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 food as formerly. Time was, when Christians did "hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matthew 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 get no heat (I Kings i.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 (Matthew 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 violin being slack, the violin 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 our love for God!
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.
3. An exhortation to increase your love to God. Let me exhort Christians to increase your love to God. Let your love be raised up higher. "And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more" (Philippians 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 wonder whether he has any grace or not, but should be still increasing the stock. He who has a 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 Elijah'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? Oh, then let us strive for higher degrees of love. St. Paul counted gold and pearl but dung for Christ (Philippians 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 (Romans 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 rot lawful for a man to utter" (2 Corinthians 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 is 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.