[Here we continue our series that has the goal of increasing our love for God and the things of God, while decreasing our love for the world and the things of the world. This resumes a multi-part study by Samuel Annesley, in which he examines, in detail, the greatest commandment.]—Ed.

How May We Attain to Love God

by Samuel Annesley (1620 –1696)

"Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment’" (Matt. 22:37–38, AV).

What Abilities are Requisite for the Well-Performance of This Duty,

and How We May Obtain Those Abilities

III. What abilities are requisite to the performance of this duty, and how may we attain those abilities?—This we must be experimentally acquainted with, or all I can say will at best seem babbling. Therefore let me at first tell you plainly, nothing on this side regeneration can capacitate you to love God. It is God alone that giveth, worketh, infuseth, impresseth the gracious habit of divine love in the souls of His people. Our love to God is nothing else but the echo of God’s love to us. Through the corruption of our nature, we hate God. God implanted in our nature an inclination to love God above all things amiable; but by the fall we have an headlong inclination to depart from God, and run away from Him; and there is in every one of us a natural impotency and inability of turning unto God. The grace of love is no flower of nature’s garden, but a foreign plant.

It is the immediate work of God to make us love Him. I do not mean immediate in opposition to the use of means, but immediate in regard of the necessary efficacy of His Spirit, beyond what all means in the world, without His powerful influence, can amount unto. It is the Lord alone that can "direct our hearts into the love of God" (II Thess. 3:5). God is pleased in a wonderful and unexpressible manner to draw up the heart in love to Him. God makes use of exhortations, and counsels, and reproofs; but though He works by them and with them, He works above them and beyond them: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." And again: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey His voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto Him: for He is thy life, and the length of thy days" (Deut. 30:6,19,20). "He is thy life;" that is, effectively, and that by love, saith Aquinas. It is reported, that "it often happens among partridges, that one steals away another’s eggs; but the young one that is hatched under the wing of a stranger, at her true mother’s first call, who laid the egg whence she was hatched, she renders herself to her true mother, and puts herself into her covey" [Sales, "Of the Love of God, 63]. It is thus with our hearts: though we are born and bred up among terrene and base things under the wing of corrupted nature; yet at, and not before, God’s first quickening call, we receive an inclination to love Him; and upon His drawing, "we run after him" (Canticles 1:4).

God works a principle of love in us, and we love God by that habit of love He hath implanted. Hence the act of love is formally and properly attributed to man as the particular cause: "I will love thee, O Lord, my strength" and, "I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice" (Ps. 18:1; 116:1). The soul works together with God in his powerful working; the will, being acted of God, acteth. It is a known saying of Augustine, "The wheel doth not run that it may be round, but because it is round." The Spirit of God enables us to love God: but it is we that love God with a created love; it is we that acquiesce in God in a gracious manner. What God doeth in the soul doth not hurt the liberty of the will, but strengthens it, in sweetly and powerfully drawing it into conformity with the will of God, which is the highest liberty: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (II Cor. 3:17). It is a poor liberty that consists in an indifferency. Do not the saints in heaven love God freely? Yet they cannot but love Him.

As the only efficient cause of our loving God is God Himself, so the only procuring cause of our loving God is Jesus Christ, that Son of the Father’s love who by His Spirit implants and actuates this grace of love, which He hath merited for us. Christ hath "made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:20). Christ hath as well merited this grace of love for us, as He hath merited the reward of glory for us. Plead therefore, dear Christians, the merit of Christ for the inflaming your hearts with the love of God, that when I shall direct to rules and means how you may come to love God, you may as well address yourselves to Christ for the grace of love, as for the pardon of your want of love hitherto. Bespeak Christ in some such, but far more, pressing language: "Lord, thou hast purchased the grace of love for those that want and crave it: my love to God is chill, do thou warm it! My love is divided, Lord, do thou unite it! I cannot love God as He deserves, O that thou wouldest help me to love Him more than I can desire! Lord, make me sick of love, and then cure me! Lord, make me in this as conformable to Thyself, as it is possible for an adopted son to be like the natural, that I may be a son of God’s love, both actively and passively, and both, as near as it is possible, infinitely!"

Let us, therefore, address ourselves to the use of all those means and helps whereby love to God is nourished, increased, excited, and exerted. I will begin with removing the impediments; we must clear away the rubbish, before we can so much as lay the foundation.

Impediments of Our Love to God

Imped. I. Self-love.—This the apostle names as captain-general of the devil’s army, whereby titular Christians manage their enmity against God. In the dregs of the "last days", this will make the times dangerous: "Men shall be lovers of their own selves" (I Tim. 3:1,2). When men over-esteem themselves in their own endowments of either body or mind, when they have a secret reserve for self in all they do (self-applause or self-profit), this is like an error in the first concoction. Get your hearts discharged of it, or you can never be spiritually healthful. The best of you are too prone to this; I world therefore commend it to you to be jealous of yourselves in this particular: for as conjugal jealousy is the bane of conjugal love, so self-jealousy will be the bane of self-love. Be auspicious of every thing that may steal away or divert your love from God.

Imped. II. Love of the world.—This is so great an obstruction, that the most loving and best-beloved disciple that Christ had, said, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in Him" (I John 2:15), and the apostle James makes use of a metaphor, calling them "adulterers and adulteresses" that keep not their conjugal love to God tight from leaking out toward the world. He chargeth them, as if they knew nothing in religion, if they knew not this, that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" and it is an universal truth, without so much as one exception, that "whosoever will be a friend of the world," must needs upon that very account be God’s "enemy" (James 4:4). The apostle Paul adds more weight to those that are even pressed to hell already: "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things," etc. (I Tim. 4:9–11). When men will be somebody in the world, they will have estates, and they will have honours, and they will have pleasures! What variety of vexatious distractions do unavoidably hinder our love to God! When our hearts are hurried with hopes and fears about worldly things, and the world hath not wherewithal to satisfy us; how doth the heart fret under its disappointments! And how can it do otherwise? We would have happiness here. Sirs, I will offer you fair: name me but one man that ever found a complete happiness in the world, and I dare promise you shall be the second; but if you will flatter yourself with dreams of impossibilities, "this your way will be your folly," though, it is like, "your posterity will approve your sayings" (Psalm 49: 13), and try experiments while they live, as you have done. But where is your love to God all this while? It is excluded. By what law? By the law of sin and death; by the love of the world and destruction; for Christ tells us, all that "hate him love death" (Prov. 8:36).

Imped. III. Spiritual sloth, and carelessness of spirit.—This impediment is when men do not trouble themselves about religion, nor any thing that is serious. Love is a busy passion, a busy grace. Love among the passions is like fire among the elements. Love among the graces is like the heart among the members. Now that which is most contrary to the nature of love must needs most obstruct the highest actings of it. The truth is, a careless frame of spirit is fit for nothing; a sluggish, lazy, slothful, careless person never attains to any excellency in any kind. What is it you would intrust a lazy person about? Let me say this (and pray think on it twice, ere you censure it once): Spiritual sloth doeth Christians more mischief than scandalous relapses. I grant, their grosser falls may be worse as to others: the grieving of the godly, and the hardening of the wicked, and the reproach to religion, must needs be so great as may make a gracious heart tremble at the thought of falling. But yet, as to themselves, a slothful temper is far more prejudicial. For example: those gracious persons that fall into any open sin, it is but once or seldom in their whole life; and their repentance is ordinarily as notorious as their sin, and they walk more humbly and more watchfully ever after; whereas spiritual sloth runs through the whole course of our life, to the marring of every duty, to the strengthening of every sin, and to the weakening of every grace. Sloth (I may rather call it unspiritual sloth) is a soft moth in our spiritual wardrobe, a corroding rust in our spiritual armoury, an enfeebling consumption in the very vitals of religion. Sloth and carelessness without an epithet, bare sloth without any thing to aggravate it, ordinarily doeth the soul more hurt than all the devils in hell, yea, than all its other sins. Shake off this, and then you will be more than conquerors over all other difficulties. Shake off this, and there is but one sin that I can think of at present that you will be in danger of, and that is spiritual pride. You will thrive so fast in all grace, you will grow up into so much communion with God, that unless God sometimes withdraw to keep you humble, you will have a very heaven on earth.

Imped. IV. The love of any sin whatsoever.— The love of God, and the love of any sin, can no more mix together than iron and clay. Every sin strikes at the being of God. The very best of saints may possibly fall into the very worst of pardonable sins; but the least of saints get above the love of the least of sin. We are ready to question God’s love unto us, as Delilah did Samson’s love to her, if he do not gratify us in all we have a mind to; but how could Delilah pretend love to Samson, while she complied with his mortal enemy against him? How can you pretend to love God, while you hide sin, His enemy, in your hearts? As it was with the grandchild of Athaliah, stolen from among those that were slain, and hidden; though unable at present to disturb her, ere long he procures her ruin (II Kings 11:1,2,etc.), so any sin, as it were, stolen from the other sins to be preserved from mortification, will certainly procure the ruin of that soul that hides it. Can you hide your sin from the search of the word, and forbear your sin while under the smart of affliction, and seem to fall out with sin when under gripes of conscience, and return to sin as soon as the storm is over? Never pretend to love God: God sees through your pretences, and abhors your hypocrisy: "His eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings. There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hate themselves" (Job 34:21,22). Come, sirs, let me deal plainly with you: you are shameful strangers to your own heart, if you do not know which is your darling sin or sins; and you are traitors to your own souls, if you do not endeavour a thorough mortification; and you are willful rebels against God, if you do in the least indulge it. Never boggle at the Psalmist’s counsel: "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil" (Psalm 97:10).

Imped. V. Inordinate love of things lawful.—And in some respect here is our greatest danger. Here persons have scripture to plead for their love to several persons and things; that it is a duty to bestow some love upon them, and the boundary-stones are not so plainly set as easily to discern the utmost bounds of what is lawful, and the first step into what is sinful. And here, having some plausible pretences for the parcelling out of their love, they plead "Not guilty," though they love not God with all their hearts, souls, and minds: whereas they should consider that the best of the world is not for enjoyment, but use; not our end, but means conducing to our chief end. Here is our sin, and our misery, our foolish transplacing of end and means. Men make it their end to eat, and drink, and get estates, and enjoy their delights; and what respect they have to God,—I know not whether to call [it] love or service—they show it but as means to flatter God to gratify them in their pitiful ends.

Having warned you of some of the chief impediments, I shall [in the next study] propose some means to engage your hearts in love to God, which you may confidently expect to be effectual through the operation of the Holy Ghost, and you may likewise expect the operation of the Spirit in the use of such means.

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