How May We Attain to Love God
by Samuel Annesley (1620 –1696)
It is fit this study should begin with a general introduction. I should be much mistaken, and so would you too, should we think this text unsuitable: let us therefore, not only in the fear, but also in the love of God, address ourselves to the management of it.
This command you have in Deut. 6:5: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." This command is not found in Exodus, nor in Leviticus, but only in Deuteronomy; that is, "the second law of Moses", which, as some express it, bore a type of the second law, namely, the evangelical, to which this command is proper: for the old law was a law of fear tending to bondage, and therefore Moses mentions the incussion of terror in the giving of it; which when he hath dispatched, he begins the following chapter with love, noting that the Holy Ghost will cause the law of love to succeed the law of fear. And it is observable that the Jews read this place with the highest observation; and their scribes write the first and last words of the preface to it with greater letters than ordinary, to amplify the sense, and to note that this is the beginning and the end of the divine law; and they read this scripture morning and evening with great religion.
The occasion of Christ’s pressing this command upon them at this time was this: When the Pharisees heard how He had baffled the Saducees, and stopped their mouths with so proper and fit an answer that they had no more to say, they consult how they may show their acumen and sharpness of wit, to diminish Christ’s credit concerning His doctrine and skill in scripture; and therefore they choose out one of their most accomplished interpreters of the law, captiously to propose an excellent question. They call Him "Master," whose disciples they will not be; they inquire after the "great" commandment who will not duly observe the "least"; they thought Christ could not return such an answer but that they might very plausibly except against it. If Christ should have named any one command to be the greatest, their exception was ready: "Why not another as great as that?" But Christ’s wisdom shames their subtlety; Christ doth not call any command great, with the lessening of the rest; but He repeats the sum of the whole law, and distinguisheth it into two great commands, according to the subordination of their objects.
Though the excellency of the subject calls for the enlargement of your hearts, yet the copiousness of it requires the contracting of my discourse. To save time, therefore, let me open my text and case both together. The case is this:—
What is it to love God with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind; and how may we be able to do it?
In short, we must love God, as near as it is possible, infinitely.
For directions in this case, I shall follow this method:—
I. Show you, what it is to love God with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind.
II. I shall endeavour to demonstrate, that it is our unquestionable and indispensable duty so to love God.
III. I shall acquaint you what abilities are requisite for the well-discharging of this duty, and how to attain them.
IV. I shall give you directions how to improve and augment all the abilities we can get, that we may have a growing love to God.
V. I shall close with the best persuasives I can think of, that you would be graciously ambitious of such qualifications, and vigorously diligent in such duties.
What Is It to Love God?
I. What is it to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind?
We must not be too curious in distinguishing these words: the same thing is meant, when the words are used singly, as David is said to follow God "with all his heart" (I Kings. 14:8); and doubly, Josiah made his people, as well as himself, to covenant "to walk after the Lord with all their heart and all their soul" (II Kings 23:3); and where three words are used, as: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:5); and when four words are used, as: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength" (Mark 12:30).
Love to God must go through and possess our whole nature, and all the powers of it. The mind must think of God; the will must delight in God; in short, our whole strength must be employed to please Him. We must love nothing more than God, nothing equal with God; we must love God above all, and that for Himself; [and love] all other things in God, and for God. We must be willing to lose all, yea, life itself, rather than to admit anything contrary to the love of God. All these expressions denote the intenseness of our affections, the unexpressibleness of our obligation, and the contemptibleness of every thing that shall challenge a share in our love. All these expressions admonish us of our infirmity, provoke us to humility, and set us a-longing after a better life. It is a notable expression of one: "The love of the heart is not understood, but felt; the love of the soul is not felt, but understood; because the love of the soul is its judgment. He that loves God as He is here commanded, believes that all good is in God, and that God is all that is good; and that without God there is no good. He believes that God is all power, and wisdom; and that without God there is neither power nor wisdom" [author unknown].
But notwithstanding all that hath been spoken, no doubt but there is a singular emphasis in the words; and the Holy Ghost intends a more full declaration of the manner of our love by these several expressions. Though to be over-critical in the distinguishing of these words will rather intricate than explicate this great command; yet to follow a plain scriptural interpretation will give light into the duty.
Let us inquire therefore, 1. What it is to love. 2. What it is to love God. 3. What it is to love God in that manner here expressed.
What Love Is
1. What is love?— "Love is an affection of union, whereby we desire or enjoy perpetual union with the thing loved" [Martin Luther].
It is not a carnal love I am now to speak of. The philosopher could observe, that there can be no true love among wicked men.
It is not a natural love, for that may as well be brutish as rational, and divine love is transcendently rational.
It is not a merely moral love, for that consists in a mean, but divine love is always in an extreme.
Divine love is a compound of all the former, but it adds infinitely more to them than it borrows of them. Divine love is supernaturally natural: it turns moral virtues into spiritual graces. It engageth men to attempt as much for the glorifying of God as all the creatures besides, from the highest angel to the most insensible stone.
What It Is to Love God
2. What is love to God?— Methinks a lax description best suits my design. This divine love,—it is the unspeakable enlargement of the heart towards God; it is the ecstasy and ravishment of the heart in God; it is the soul’s losing itself in God; it is the continual working of the heart towards God. Every faculty of the soul is actually engaged; the mind is musing and plodding how to please God and enjoy Him; the will is graciously obstinate, the policy of hell cannot charm it off its object; the affections are all passions in their eager motions towards God; the conscience is a busy-body, necessitating the whole man to a jealous watch. I said, this love—it is the enlargement of the heart towards God: when the "love of God is shed abroad in the heart" (Rom. 5:5), it is as the breaking of a ball of lightning, it sets all on a flame immediately. It is the unspeakable enlargement of the heart towards God; the highest rhetoric is too flat to express it, as is obvious in the Song of Songs, that Song of Loves. I have no way to set this out unto you but by words: the plainest and most intelligible expressions I can give you shall be by several similitudes, which I shall pursue till they leave me to admiration. I shall borrow metaphors from things without life, from plants, from sensitive creatures, from man:
(1). The soul’s love to God may be a little shadowed forth, by the love of the iron to the loadstone,—Which ariseth from a hidden quality; though to say so, is but the hiding of our ignorance. The motion of the iron toward the loadstone is slow while at a distance, but quick when near: and when it but touches it, it clings so fast, that, unless forced, it will never part; and when it is parted, it will, to the farthest part of the world, retain the virtue of its touch. So the soul: while at a distance from God,—it moves slowly; but as the Father draws, it runs; and when once it comes to be graciously united, the apostle asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom. 8:35); not only, "Who shall hinder us from partaking of God’s love?", but, "Who can take us off from our loving of God?" Christ gives the answer, their union with God, their enjoyment of God, is inseparable (John 10:28–29); and though they may (as sometimes they will in their imperfect state) have some warping on their parts, and some withdrawing on God’s, yet their love to God, in the lowest ebb, tremblingly hankers after him; the soul cannot forget its alone resting-place (see Ps. 116:7).
(2). Our love to God is like the love of the flower of the sun to the sun.—It springs of a very little seed. It is not only our faith, but our love, that is at first like a "grain of mustard-seed"; it grows the fastest of any flower whatsoever. It is not only faith, but love, that "groweth exceedingly" (II Thess. 1:3). It always turns and bows itself towards the sun. Our love to God is always bowing and admiring; always turning to and following after God. It opens and shuts with the sun’s rising and setting. Our love, when it is what it should be, opens itself to God, and closes itself against all other objects. It brings forth seed enough for abundance of other flowers: love to God is the most fruitful grace, that when it "blossoms and buds, it fills the face of the world with fruit" (Isa. 27:6).
(3). Our love to God is like the love of the turtle dove to her mate.—God’s people are His turtle dove (see Ps. 74:19). I grant, they most properly resemble brotherly love; but why not our love to God? They never associate with other birds: the loving soul keeps fellowship with God, and, out of choice, with Him only, and those that bear His image. The turtle dove never sings and flies abroad for recreation, as other birds; but they have a peculiar note for each other: the soul that loves God flutters not about for worldly vanities; no recreation so sweet as communion with God; the soul’s converse with God is peculiar. When one dies, the other droops till it dies, so that they do, as it were, live and die in the embraces of each other: so the soul that loves God,—His "loving-kindness is better than life" (Ps. 63:3); and there is nothing makes a saint more impatient of living, than that he cannot while he lives have a full enjoyment of God.
(4). Our love to God should be like, though exceed, Jacob’s love to Benjamin (Gen. 42:38)—He will starve rather than part with Benjamin; and when hunger forced him from him, and he was like to be by a wile kept from him, Judah offers to purchase his liberty with his own, because his father’s "life was bound up in the lad’s life" (Gen. 44:30); so the soul that loves God is not able to bear the thoughts of parting with him; his life is bound up in enjoying the presence of God. I have been too long; but O, that I could affect your hearts as well as inform your judgments, what it is to love God!