How May We Attain to Love God
by Samuel Annesley (1620 –1696)
Means to Attain Love to God (cont.)
In the previous sections, we looked at the inward means to attain love of God. Outward means for engaging our hearts to love God, are either directing or exemplary.
1. Directing—The only directing means is the word of God; but seeing you shall in the following sermons have particular directions about both hearing and reading of the word, I shall only hint these few things:
(1.) Prize the word—Though our estimation of it will be exceedingly heightened by a further acquaintance with it, yet you will find it singularly advantageous to the inflaming of your hearts to get your hearts, as it were, graciously forestalled with the valuation of the word. When we can count the word sweeter than honey to the taste, better than gold for a treasure, more necessary than food for our sustenance (see Job 23:12), how can the soul choose but love God, whose love indited it? Shall filthy books provoke carnal love, and shall not the book of God provoke divine love? Endeavour to get but as spiritual a sense of divine truths, answerable to men’s carnal lusts and feelings of other things: do but dwell upon truths till they affect you. Only here observe this necessary caution: Dwell not so upon difficulties as to hinder your further inquiry into things more easily understood, but wait in a course of diligence, and you will be able to master those difficulties which it seems next to impossible at first to fathom. Do but steer an even course between a careless neglect, and an anxious perplexity, about what you read or hear; and you will certainly attain a deep knowledge of the things of God, and a high measure of love to God.
(2.) Set immediately upon the practice of those things which you shall be convinced to be your duty—Let not your affections cool upon any duty pressed upon you. Do something like that of Nebuchadnezzar. God revealed to him something of moment; he had lost the matter, and understood not the meaning; but was, as others thought, unreasonably importunate to recover both, so that presently, before the impression wore off, the heart went over (see Dan. 2:8ff). So, my brethren, fix the word by speedy practice. Though the seed of the word is long in growing to perfection, yet it presently takes root in order to grow. Were I, therefore, now exhorting you to repentance, and could bring you to no nearer a resolution than to repent tomorrow, my exhortation would be lost: so now, while I press you to love God, and demonstrate from scripture that it is your duty, offer you scripture-helps that may be effectual, provoke you with scripture-encouragements that may be overcoming, if you now put off all this till a fitter time, it is a thousand to one you put it off forever. Read this over again; and then think, "Why should not I now believe this? And how can I say I now believe it, if I do not now put it in practice? And how can I say I practise it, if I omit any one direction?"
2. Exemplary means—And here I shall give you as short a touch as may be of men, angels, and Christ Himself. We are much drawn by examples. Examples—they are not only arguments, but wings. They give us a demonstration that precepts are practicable.
(1.) Men—Why should not we love God as well as ever Abraham did? God gives the word: "Abraham, take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest; and offer him for a burnt-offering. And Abraham rose up early in the morning" etc. (Gen. 22:1–3). Had he not loved God, so far as the creature can love God, infinitely, every word would have been as a dagger to his heart. As if he had said:
Abraham—I gave thee that name, from thy being "a father of many people" (Gen. 17:4), but now be thou the death of that seed which I intended to multiply. God seemed to change his name to Abraham, as Solomon named his son Rehoboam, "an enlarger of the people," who enlarged them from twelve tribes to two!
Take now—No time to demur upon it.
Thy son—So many years prayed for, and waited for.
Thine only son—All the rest of thy children are not worth thy owning.
Isaac—The son of thy laughter, now the son of thy sorrow.
Whom thou lovest—More than ever father loved a child, and that upon several justifiable accounts.
And get thee into the land of Moriah—Though no time to deliberate before thou resolvest, yet time enough for repentance before thou executest thy resolutions.
And offer him there for a burnt-offering—It is not enough to give him up to be sacrificed by another, but thou thyself must be the priest to kill thy lovely child, and then to burn him to ashes.
And Abraham rose up early, etc.—He quarrels not with God: "What doth God mean to give me such a command, as never to any one else in this world?" He consults not his wife: "O what will Sarah say?" He sticks not at what might expose religion: "What will the Heathen say?" You may well suppose great strugglings between nature and grace; but God seemed to press upon him with this question: "Dost thou love me or thy child most?" Abraham doth, as it were, answer, "Nay, Lord, if that be the question, it shall soon be decided, how and where thou pleasest."
Another instance we have in Moses, if you will compare two or three scriptures: Moses,—at first he inquires of God, as we do of a stranger, "What is His name?" Upon God’s further discovery, he begs more of His special presence; and upon God’s granting of that, his love grows bold, and he said, "I beseech thee, show me Thy glory." Upon his finding God propitious, he begs that God would remove the cloud, and show him as much of His glory as he was possibly able to bear the sight of (Exod. 3:13; 33:15, 18).
Take one instance more; and that is of Paul, who, thinking God might have more glory by the saving of many than by the saving of him, was willing to quit the happiness of salvation; for not the least grace, much less grace in the height of it, could possibly choose a necessity of hating and blaspheming God, which is the venom of damnation; but his love to God is greater than his love to himself; and so he will reckon himself happy without glory, provided God may be more glorified.
And thus I have produced three examples,—of one before the law, one under the law, and one under the gospel. How will you receive it, if I shall venture to say—"We have in some respect more cause to love God than any, than all these persons put together"? What singular gleams of warm love from God they had more than we, are in some respects exceeded by the noon-day light and heat of gospel-love that we have more than they. What love-visits God was pleased to give them, are excelled by Christ’s (as to them) extraordinary presence among us. What was to them a banquet is to us our daily bread. God opens the windows of heaven to us. God opens His very heart to us. We may read more of the love of God to us in one day, than they could in their whole life.
(2.) Angels, that unweariedly behold the face of God (see Matt. 18:10)—They refuse nothing that may evidence their love to God. It is ordinarily the devil’s work to be the executioners of God’s wrath. It is said, "He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them" (Psalm 78:49); but the good angels will not stick at it when God requires it: "The angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand" (II Kings 19:35). But now we have more cause to love God than the angels. God hath expressed greater love to us in Christ than He hath to them. "He took not hold of angels," etc. (Heb. 2:16 ); not any one of them received so much as the pardon of any one sin. God would not bear with them in so much as the least tittle. So soon as they ceased to love God with a perfect love, God hated them with a perfect hatred. And, for the blessed angels, "are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). But none of the saints are to minister to the angels in anything. How should we love such a Master! But I have a pattern to commend to you above the angels:
(3.) Christ—And O that the mention of Christ’s love to His Father might transport us! Though Christ did nothing but what pleased His Father (John 8:29). Christ suffered everything that might please Him (Phil. 2:8). Christ obeyed every command, endured every threatening that it was possible to endure, and that to the intensive extent of them; yet God dealt more hardly with Christ than ever He doth with any of us: "It pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief" (Isa. 53:10); whereas the church in the midst of her lamentations must acknowledge, "He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men" (Lam. 3:33), yet Christ prayed "that the world may know that Thou hast loved them, as Thou hast loved me" (John 17:23). Should not we then pray, and strive to love God, as near as it is possible, as Christ loved him? Christ had not one hard thought of God’s severe justice; no, not when He endured what was equivalent to the eternal torments of the damned: and shall our love shrink at God’s fatherly chastisements? Christ’s love to God did not abate, while God poured out his wrath: and shall ours abate under medicinal providences? Whatever our outward condition is in this world, it is better than Christ’s.
Thus I have endeavoured to acquaint you what abilities are requisite, and how to attain them, that you may love God.