[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. In this issue, Mr. Annesley looks at the means by which we may attain love to God.]—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).

Means to Attain Love to God

The means to attain love to God are either directing, promoting, or conserving:

1. Directing—That is, spiritual knowledge directing us to love God. This is beyond what can be spoken in its commendation: a clear and distinct knowledge of the love and loveliness of God in the amazing, yet ravishing, methods of its manifestations, and the clear understanding of the heavenly privilege of having our hearts inflamed with love to God, this will do to direct you in this case. Plainly, get and exercise this twofold knowledge:

(1.) The knowledge of spiritual things—Did we but perfectly know the nature of the most contemptible insect; nay, did we but know the nature of atoms; this would lead us to admire and love God. But, then, to know those things that no graceless person in the world cares for the knowledge of,—for instance, the inward workings of original sin, and how to undermine it; the powerful workings of the Spirit of grace, and how to improve it; what are the joys of the Holy Ghost, and how to obtain them;—would not such things insinuate the love of God into you? Add then,

(2.) The knowledge of ordinary things in a spiritual manner, so as to make the knowledge of natural things serve heavenly designs—Thus Christ in all the metaphors, in all the parables, He used. To value no knowledge any further than it is reducible to such an use,—this would lead us into the loving of God. Thus I name but one directing means.

2. Promoting means are various—Not but that spiritual knowledge doth singularly promote the love of God, but its proper work lies in directing. The several things I shall name for inward means, your way of managing must make them so.

(1.) Self-denial—This is so necessary that no other grace can supply the want of it. It is among the graces of the soul, as among the members of the body—one member may supply the want of another; the defect of the lungs may be supplied by other parts. The want of prudence may be supplied with gospel-simplicity, which looks like quite another thing; but nothing can supply our want of love to God; nor can anything supply our want of self-denial in order to our loving of God. We can never have too low thoughts of ourselves, provided we do not neglect our duty and let go our hold of Christ. Those very things that not only we may love but we must love, it is our duty to love them, and our sin not to love them: yet all these must be denied when they dare to stand in competition with our love to God. "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). Christ would have us count what religion will cost us before we meddle with it.

(2.) Contempt of the world—As love of the world is a great impediment, so contempt of the world is a great promoter, of our love to God: may not our contempt of the world be best expressed by our worldly diffidence? We have no confidence in it, no expectation of happiness from it. I take both the understanding and will to be the seat of faith: now, to have both these against the world, is to have our understanding satisfied that the world cannot satisfy us; to look upon the world as an empty drum, that makes a great noise, but hath nothing in it; and therefore the will doth not hanker after it, hath no kindness for it. That person is a good proficient in divine love that can make the world serviceable to devotion by drawing arguments from his worldly condition, be it what it will, to promote piety. For example: Have I anything considerable in the world? I will manage it as a steward; blessed be God that He hath entrusted me with anything whereby I may show my love to Him, in my love to His! Have I nothing in the world? Blessed be God for my freedom from worldly snares! God knows I need food and raiment; and I am of Jacob’s mind, if God will give me no more, He shall be my God (see Gen. 28: 20,21); and I will be content, whatever my condition be in the world: it is better than Christ’s was; and O that I could love God as Christ did!

(3.) Observation of God’s benefits to us—It is goodness and beneficence that draws out love. God is our infinite Benefactor. The very brutes love their benefactors: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but my people doth not consider" (Isa. 1:3). Who can reckon-up the benefits he receives from God? The commonest of our mercies deserves a return of love; how much more our spiritual mercies? Those very mercies that are troublesome to us, deserve our love. For example: Trouble for sin, though to a degree of horror; hungering after Christ, though unto languishing; disappointments in the world, though without satisfaction anywhere else; lamenting after God, though with fear that we shall never enjoy Him:—such-like throes of anguish make way for spiritual joy and comfort; and the soul that goes through such exercises grows in love to God every day. As for other kinds of benefits, I will say but this: God doth more for us every hour of our lives, than all our dearest friends or relations on earth, than all the saints and angels in heaven, can do, so much as once, should they do their utmost: and can you do less than love Him?

(4.) Watchfulness over our own hearts—When we love God, we are to remember that we love a jealous God. This will restrain the straggling of our affections. We should keep as careful a watch over our own hearts, as we should over a rich heiress, committed to our guardianship: we reckon she is undone, and we shall never be able to look God or man in the face, if she be unworthily matched through our default. Christians, your hearts, through the condescension of God, and blood and Spirit of Christ, are a match for the King of glory; several inferior objects not worth the naming are earnest suitors. We are undone if any but God have our supreme love. If you be not severely watchful, this heart of yours will be stolen away. Be persuaded, therefore, to examine everything that you have cause to suspect; call yourselves often to an account. Be jealous of your hearts, and of everything whereby you may be endangered.

(5.) Prayer—All manner of prayer is singularly useful to enflame the heart with love to God. Those that pray best, love God best. Mistake me not: I do not say, Those that can pray with the most florid expressions, or, Those that can pray with the most general applause; but, They that most feel every word they speak, and every thought they think, in prayer; they whose apprehensions of God are most overwhelming; whose affections to God are most spiritually passionate; whose prayers are most wrestling, and graciously impudent; this is the man that prays best, and loves God best. I grant these are the prayers of a great proficient in the love of God; but you may pray for this frame, when you cannot pray with it. The soul never falls sick of divine love in prayer, but Christ presently gives it an extraordinary visit: so soon as ever Christ’s spouse says she is "sick of love," the next words she speaks are that "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me" (Canticles 2:5,6). Compare that with these words: "Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me" (Canticles 6:5). Christ speaks as of being overcome and conquered. Rouse up yourselves, therefore; give yourselves unto prayer. Pray for a more spiritual discovery of God’s amiableness. Did you know God better, you could not but love Him more; and none can discover God to us, as He discovers Himself, so spiritually, so powerfully. Take no denial; God will never be angry with your being importunate for hearts to love Him.

"O my God, it is Thyself I love above all things; it is for Thyself; in Thee my desires are terminated; and, therefore, what wilt Thou give me? If Thou wilt not give me Thyself, thou wilt give me nothing. If I find Thee not, I find nothing; Thou dost not at all reward me, but vehemently torment me. Heretofore, when I sought Thee finally, for Thyself, I hoped that I should quickly find Thee, and keep Thee; and with this sweet hope I comforted myself in all my labours. But now, if Thou deny me Thyself, what wilt Thou give me? Shall I be forever disappointed of so great a hope? Shall I always languish in my love? Shall I mourn in my languishment? Shall I grieve in my mourning? Shall I weep and wail in my grief? Shall I always be empty? Shall I always disconsolately sorrow, incessantly complain, and be endlessly tormented? O my most good, most powerful, most merciful, and most loving God, Thou dost not use, so unfriendly and like an enemy, to despise, refuse, wound, and torment those that love Thee with all their heart, soul, and strength; those that hope for full happiness in Thee! Thou art the God of truth, the beginning and end of those that love Thee; Thou dost at last give Thyself to those that love Thee, to be their perfect and complete happiness. Therefore, O my most good God, grant that I may in this present life love Thee for Thyself above all things, seek Thee in all things, and in the life to come find Thee, and hold Thee to eternity."

(6.) Meditation—A duty as much talked of, and as little practised, as any duty of Christianity. Did you but once a day (in that time of the day which, upon experience, you find to be fittest for such a work) solemnly place yourselves in God’s presence; beg of Him the fixing and the flowing of your thoughts, that your thoughts might be graciously fixed, yet as graciously enlarged; let the subject-matter of them be something spiritual; endeavour to fill your heads and affect your hearts with holy musings, till you come to some resolution, which resolution close with prayer, and follow with endeavours; O how would this, even ere you are aware, engage your souls to love God! Though you cannot methodize your meditations to your mind, yet inure yourselves to a holy thoughtfulness about things above. Endeavour, as you are able, to tie your thoughts together, and so fasten them that they may not be lost, that your musing-time may not be reckoned among your lost time. I distinguish between meditation and study. Study is for knowledge; meditation is for grace. Study leaves everything as we find it; meditation leaves a spiritual impress upon everything it meddles with. Though I will not assert, I may inquire, whether meditation be not one of those duties of which the very constant performance speaks the soul to be gracious; that is, though I dare not say, they are not gracious that do not everyday solemnly meditate, yet whether may I not say, they are gracious that do. Try, therefore, whether you may not say, with the Psalmist, "Whilst I was musing the fire burned" (Ps. 39:3), whether while you are musing, your heart may not be inflamed with love to God.

(7.) Choice of friends—I dare appeal to all experienced Christians, whether ever they met with lively Christians, without some warming of their hearts with love to God and godliness. The truth is, Christian conference hath the most speedy and effectual efficacy of any ordinance of God whatsoever. Do, therefore, in religion as you do in other things. For example: If you meet with a physician, all your discourse shall be something about your health. If you meet with a traveller, you are presently inquisitive about the places he hath seen. Why should not Christians, when they meet, converse like Christians, and presently fall into a heavenly dialogue? Christians, this you know, there must be a forsaking of all wicked company, ere you can pretend the least love to Christ. Mistake me not: I do not mean that the bonds of family-relations must presently be broken; that husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and covenant-servants, must presently separate if one of them be ungodly. No, where the relation is such as cannot be dissolved without sin, then those that are godly must converse with the ungodly, as physicians with their sick patients. But this is it I say, You must not willingly and out of choice make God’s enemies your familiar friends. Those that are always speaking well of God insensibly draw out our hearts in love to Him. When Christ’s spouse had told the daughters of Jerusalem what Christ was more than others, they presently offer themselves to seek Him with her (see Canticles 5:9; 4:1). As "evil communications corrupt good manners," (I Cor. 15:33), so good communication corrects evil manners. In short, you cannot but observe, that none is able to hear anyone spoken against whom they love; and that everyone delights to speak and hear of whom they love; so that here you have a means to inflame, an employ to exercise, and a touchstone to try, your love to God.

(8.) Thanksgiving—That person that makes conscience of thanksgiving will thereby grow in love to God. That person that takes everything kindly and thankfully from God, cannot but love Him; and, Christians, if we be not basely wanting to ourselves, we may by thankfulness make everything a help to promote divine love. For example, I hear a man swear, and curse, and blaspheme God. "O what cause have I to love God, that He hath not left me to do so!" I am under the rebukes of God, I feel His anger in such a providence. "O what cause have I to love God, that He will take any pains with me, and give me medicinal correction, not giving me up to my own heart’s lusts till I perish!" "Alas! I am not so spiritual as to make such inferences; yet, blessed be God, I really value it as a privilege to be able to put a good interpretation on all God’s dealings. O that I could love God for the very means, and helps, and encouragements to love him!" I shall name no more (though I might many) promoting means.

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