[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 study, Mr. Annesley tells us how we may improve our love for 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).

 

How to Improve and Augment Our Love to God

IV. How to improve and augment all our possible abilities to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.—And for this I shall give you one general, yet singular, direction, though I must inform, direct, and press several things under it; and that is, set yourselves to love God. Set upon it as you are able. Do for the engaging of your love to God, as you would do for engaging your hearts in love to a person commended to you for marriage. Here is a person commended to you whom you never saw nor before heard of. All the report you can hear speaks a great suitableness in the person, and consequently happiness in the match: you thereupon entertain the motion, and a treaty, to see whether reports be true and affections feasible. Though at first you find no affection on either side, yet, if you meet with no discouragements, you continue converse, till, by a more intimate acquaintance, there ariseth a more endearedness of affection: at length a non-such love becomes mutual. Do something like this in spirituals. I now solemnly bespeak your highest love for God. Perhaps God and thy soul are yet strangers; thou hast not yet met with Him in His ordinances, nor savingly heard of Him by His Spirit. Do not slight the overture; for from thy first entertainment of it, thou wilt be infinitely happy. Everything of religion is at first uncouth; the work of mortification is harsh, and the work of holiness difficult; but practice will facilitate them, and make thee in love with them. So the more thou acquaintest thyself with God, the more thou canst not but love Him, especially considering that God is as importunate with thee for thy love, as if His own happiness was concerned; whereas He is infinitely above receiving benefit from us. But seeing He is so earnest with thee for thy love, beg it of Him for Him; God is more willing to give every grace than thou canst be to receive it. "Acquaint thyself," therefore, with God, "and then shalt thou have thy delight in the Almighty, and shalt lift, up thy face unto God. Thou shalt make thy prayer unto Him, and He shall hear thee" (Job 13:21,26,27). What, though thou beginnest at the lowest step of divine love, thou mayest, through grace, mount up to the highest pinnacle! I willingly wave so much as mentioning the several methods proposed; and shall, from a modern author, commend to you these five steps or degrees of love to God.

 

Degrees of Love to God

1. The first degree, is to love God for those good things which we do or hope to receive from Him.—To love God as our Benefactor. "O love the Lord, all ye His saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful" (Psalm 31:23). Though I name this as the lowest degree of our loving of God, yet the highest degree of our loving God is never separated from the loving of God as our Benefactor. It is mentioned in Moses’s commendation, that he esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward" (Heb. 11:26). To love God for hopes of heaven is not a mercenary kind of love; it is not only lawful that we may, but it is our duty that we must, love God for the glory that is laid up for us. Where is the man that will own the name of Christian, who dare charge Christ with any defect of love to God? Well, the scripture saith expressly, that "for the joy get before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). Is it not (no question but it is) an infinite kindness of God to make promises? And is it not grossly absurd to say that it is a sin to believe them? When our love shall be perfected in heaven, shall we then love God? And shall not we then love God, as well for our perfect freedom from sin, for our perfection of grace, for the society of saints and angels, as for Himself? If you question this, surely you will startle more at what I shall farther assert; namely, to love God for temporal benefits does infallibly evidence us eminently spiritual. Nay, further yet, I shall commend to the consideration of the most considerate Christian, whether our loving of God for the good things of this life doth not evidence a greater measure of love to God than to love God only for the gracious communication of Himself unto the soul. I speak of truly loving God, not of bare saying you love Him. Now I evidence it thus: God’s gracious communications of Himself naturally tend to the engaging of the soul to love Him; but the things of the world do not so. God’s gracious communications of Himself speak special love on God’s part, and that draws out love again; but, alas, common mercies speak no such thing. Now, then, that soul that is so graciously ingenious as to love God for those lower kinds of mercies, that do not of themselves speak any love from God to us, that love of God looks something like,—though it is infinitely short of it, (for it is impossible to prevent God in His loving of us)—but it looks somewhat like our being beforehand with God in the way of special love. To love God spiritually for temporal mercies,—how excellent is this love! Though to love a benefactor may be but the love of a brute; yet to love God thus, as our Benefactor, cannot but be the love of a Saint. You see, therefore, that though you begin your love to God at below what is rational, it may insensibly grow up to what is little less than angelical.

2. The second step of our love to God, is to love God for Himself, because He is the most excellent good.—You may abstract the consideration of His beneficence to us from His excellency in Himself; and then, the soul can rise thus: "Lord, though I should never have a smile from Thee while I live, and should be cast off by Thee when I die, yet I love Thee." Alas! Why is this named as the second step? Surely there are but few can rise so high. Pray, Christians, mind this there is many a gracious soul that loves God for Himself, who dares scarce own it that he loves God at all; for instance, when the soul is in perplexing darkness, and cannot discern any covenant-interest in God; but, as the church bemoans herself: "God hath filled me with bitterness, He hath made me drunken with wormwood. My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord. When I cry and about, He shutteth out my prayer" etc. (Lam. 3:8,15,18, etc.). In short, it is the case of every soul that is under sore temptations or long desertions. Yet, mark you, while they thus "walk in darkness, and see no light," yet then a discerning Christian may see their love to God, like Moses’s face, shine to others’ observation, though not to their own; as may be particularly thus evidenced: When God smites them, they love Him; for they are still searching what sin it is that He contends for, that they may get rid of it, not hide it, nor excuse it. When they fear God will damn them, then they love Him; for they then keep in the way of holiness, which is the way of salvation. Yea, they will not be drawn out of it, though carnal friends, like Job’s wife, bid them "curse God, and die"; though Satan tell them they strive in vain; though their discouragements are multiplied, and their diligence is disappointed; yet they are resolved, like Job, who said, "Though God hath taken away my judgment, and the Almighty hath vexed my soul; I will not remove mine integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live" (Job 27:2,5,6). It is as if he had said: "I will delight in the Almighty, or nothing; I will always call upon God, though He should never regard me." Or, though the soul under trouble will not own so much goodness in itself as to say thus, yet the conversation of such Christians speaks it plainly; and can such a frame proceed from anything but love to God? Doth not grace work in the soul like physic in the body? The mother gives her child physic; the physic in its working makes the child sick; the child, when sick, instead of being angry with the mother for the physic, makes all its moan to the mother, hangs about her, lays its head in her bosom: is not this love to the mother, though she gave this sick-physic? So, my brethren, God deals with His children. What, though some of His dealings make them heart-sick? Yet they cling to Him, fearing nothing but sin, and can bear anything but His displeasure. Is not here love? And do not these love God for Himself? It is true, God’s love to them all this while is great; but they perceive it not.

3. The third step is, to love nothing but for God’s sake, in Him, and for Him, and to Him.—It is said to be Teresia’s maxim, "All that is not God is nothing." Indeed, the very word that Solomon uses for "vanity", which he endorseth upon the best of creature-happiness in the very notion of it, proclaims it: "It is not God, therefore it is vanity." It is a noble employment to try experiments upon every lovely object, to reduce our love to them to the love of God, to be still musing upon spiritual cases, still supplying of spiritual wants, still longing for spiritual enjoyments, that I may not only love other things in subordination to God, but to love nothing but for God.

For example: In all outward enjoyments.—"Have I an estate? I will honour God with my substance, because I love him. Have I anything pleasant or delightful in this world? I will run it up to the fountain." O how pure and satisfying are the loving soul’s delights in God! "Have I any esteem in the world? I am no way fond of it; but so far as it may make my attempts for the honour of God more successful, I will improve it, and upon all other accounts decline it. Nearer yet: My relations are dear unto me. I truly love them; but yet my love to God shall animate my love to them. For instance: I truly love my friend; but this shall be my love’s exercise, to persuade him to love God. I dearly love my parents; but O, no father like God! My soul is overcome with that expression of Christ’s, ‘Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother’ (Matt. 12:50). My conjugal relation is dearest to me; but my heart is passionately set upon this, that we may both be infallibly espoused unto Christ. My heart yearns towards my children; but I had rather have them God’s children than mine."

Nearer yet: as to inward qualifications.—For instance, for natural parts: "I bless God that I am not an idiot, that I have any capacity of understanding; but I am resolved, to the utmost of my capacity, to endeavour the convincing of all I converse with, that to love and enjoy God is most highly rational, and most eminently our interest. Have I any acquired endowments of learning or wisdom? I bless God for them; but I count all wisdom folly, and all learning dotage, without the knowledge of God in Christ." Consider this: "If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him" (I Cor. 8:2,3). Higher yet: for gracious qualifications that capacitate me for glory: "I love grace the best of any creature, wherever I see it; but it is for the sake of the God of all grace, without whom my grace is inconsiderable."

Once more, higher yet, and higher than this I think we cannot go: To love those things that are not lovely, merely for God's sake, or out of love to God.—For example: how many have you heard complain for want of afflictions, for fear God does not love them!—though, by the way, those betray their weakness who thus complain; for did they but observe their want of evidence of divine love, and did they more sympathize with the church of Christ under the cross, they would find they need not complain for want of afflictions. But, be it so: complain they do, and that for want of afflictions. Afflictions are no way lovely, we are nowhere bid to pray for them: but it is our duty to pray for preventing and removing them; and yet the gracious soul is, through love to God, in some respect in love with them. Here is a notable degree of divine love, that the soul would upon any terms experiment the love of God; and engage the heart in love to God again, and to love nothing but for God.

(In the next issue, we will continue Mr. Annesley’s enumeration

of the degrees of love to God.)

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