[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 particular study, Mr. Annesley continues his enumeration of the degrees of love to God. He has already discussed the first three out of five degrees of love. The first three were: 1. To love God for those good things which we receive from Him; 2. To love God for Himself, because He is good; 3. To love nothing, except for God’s sake.]—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).

 

Degrees of Love to God (cont.)

4. The fourth step of our love to God is, for our highest love of everything to be hatred in comparison of our love to God.—The truth is, we can never so plainly know to what a degree we love God, as by weighing it against whatever stands in competition with it. Why should I so far debase my love to God as to weigh it in the same balance with love to sin? But, alas! Why do besotted sinners so dote upon sin, as if love to God were not worthy to be compared with it? Methinks, I may a little more than allude to that passage of Isaiah: "They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and be maketh it a god," &c. (Isa. 46:6). They give out their gold by handfuls, without weighing, for matter of their idols; but they will be good husbands in their expenses about the workmanship of them. Man cares not at what rate he loves his idols, those lusts upon which they bestow their affections; though in all other things they are wary enough. But why should I waste time in speaking to these? They have not yet gone one step towards the love of God; and, therefore, are so far behind, that they are not within learning of what is spoken to good proficients in the love of God. Let me only leave with them this parting word: From a person’s first sincere and ardent love to God, he can neither speak nor think of sin without abhorrency. From the first infusion of grace, there is a graciously-natural antipathy against sin. Sin receives its death’s wound: it is too true, it may struggle for life, and seem to be upon recovery; but grace will wear it out, and will never leave the conflict till it has obtained the conquest. But this is not the thing I intended to speak to in this particular: it is other kinds of things than sin that the soul that loves God is afraid to spill his love upon. He prizeth those ordinances wherein he meets with communion with God, but is afraid his love should terminate there; he values them but as windows to let in the light: though something excellent may be written there, as with the point of a diamond, yet it is neither writing nor window that is prized, but the light. When that is gone, they shut up the window as if it were a dead wall that is no more regarded till the light returns. It is the light of God’s countenance that is better than life itself. Perhaps you will say, this comes not up to what I asserted, that our highest love to everything is to be hatred in comparison of our love to God. Well, let this be warily considered: One whose love to God is at this height, is exactly curious in the management of his graces; and while he is so, he is as curiously jealous lest grace should warp, to rob God of his glory. He loves inherent grace heartily. "O," saith he, "that my soul were more enriched with it!" But yet while he is breathing after perfection in grace, he admiringly prefers God’s wise love in saving him by Christ, before salvation by inherent grace: he utterly renounceth the beat of his graces, when pride would have them jostle with Christ for the procuring of acceptation. In short, a soul that is overcome with God’s method of salvation, is unable to bear any thing that darkens it. "Would God have me to be as watchful against sin, as if there were no Christ to pardon it?" "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not" (I John 2:1). Our first care must be not to sin. "O that I could perfectly comply with God in this! But, alas! I cannot! Would God have me to rest as entirely upon Christ after my utmost attainments, as that wretch who pretends to venture his soul with him out of an ill-spent life? O Lord, I trust no more to my good works than he can to his bad ones, for his meriting of salvation! As I would not ungratefully overlook any thing the Spirit hath done in me, so I would not have anything which I have almost marred in the Spirit’s doing of it, to draw a curtain whereby Christ should be less looked on."

5. The most eminent degree of our love to God, is ecstasy and ravishment.—We need not go down to the legends of the Philistines to sharpen our incentives to the love of God. I could over-match what can be said, with truth, of Ignatius [Loyola] and Xaverius, with several, whom many of you knew, whose unparalleled humility hid them from observation, whose communion with God was often overwhelming: but I forbear. Take a scripture-instance of this kind of love; compare but these three passages to the Song of Songs: "I am sick of love" (Song. 2:5). This is upon Christ’s first overcoming discovery of himself. "I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my Beloved, that ye tell Him, that I am sick of love" (Song. 5:8). This charge is from her spiritual languishment, through earnest desire of reconciliation, after some negligence and carelessness in duty. And in Song. 8:6, when she hath had the highest communion with God that an imperfect state affords; when she was, as it were, upon the threshold of glory; and then she saith, "Love is strong as death." As if she had said, "I shall die unless thou grant my desire"; or, "Let me die, that my desire may be granted." Jealousy is cruel as the grave: "That as the grave is never satisfied, so neither will my love without the utmost enjoyments of thyself." The coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a must vehement flame: "My love burns up my corruptions, shines in holiness, and mounts upwards in heavenly-mindedness." Many waters cannot quench love: "The waters of afflictions are but as oil to the fire." If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned (see Song. 8:6,7). She scorns all things that would force or flatter her out of her love to Christ. Now, if you except against this as spoken of love to Christ, and not of love to God essentially, to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I readily answer, "We cannot see God lovely but in Christ." If any will be so curious as to assert they look upon Christ Himself as but a means to bring them to God; it is God essentially, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, when Christ shall have given up his mediatory kingdom (see I Cor. 15:28), that must be their complete happiness: the means is not to be rested in, in comparison of the end. This may well be compared to "a sea of glass" (see Rev. 15:2,3), slippery standing. O that I could but discover what my soul should long for; namely, how to look beyond Christ to God, in whom alone is my complete happiness, and then to look in some respect beyond God to Christ, to give the Lamb His peculiar honour, when I shall be with the Almighty, and with the Lamb as in a temple; when the glory of God and of the Lamb shall be the light (see Rev. 21:22,23), whereby I shall see that God, who dwelleth in such light, as no mortal eye can behold (see I Tim. 6:16). That will be a blessed vision indeed. "When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (see I Cor. 13:10ff). We have yet but childish apprehensions of these things, to what we shall have when we come to "a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). Now we see "darkly, through the glass" of ordinances; but then "we shall see face to face." Now we "know but in part"; but then "we shall know God", according to our measure, as God knows us. And then the greatest grace will be love, perfect love, that will cast out all fear; fear of not attaining, and fear of losing, that joy of our Lord into which we are taken. But, alas!—all I can say in this matter is rather the restless fluttering of the soul towards God, than the quiet resting of the soul in God. Let me close the paragraph with that [which] I call a rapture of profound Bradwardine: "O Lord my God! Thou art the good of every good; good above all good things, a good most infinitely infinite. How, therefore, should I love thee? How shall I proportionally love thee infinitely? O that I could! But how can I, that am so very little and finite, love thee infinitely? And how otherwise will there be any proportion between thy loveliness and my loves? My God, Thou art super-amiable; Thou infinitely exceedest all other things that are lovely. Perhaps, Lord, I should love Thee infinitely as to the manner, when I cannot as to the act. It pertains to the manner of loving, to love Thee finally for Thyself; and no other good finally for itself, but for Thee, who art the Chiefest Good, and the Beginning and End of all good things. But perhaps I may, in some sort, love Thee infinitely, as to the act both intensively and extensively: intensively, in loving thee more intensely, more firmly, more strongly, than any finite good, and when I love nothing but for thy sake; extensively, when I compare Thee, Lord, with all other great and good things, and had rather they, and myself also, had no being, than once to offend my good God. But yet, most loving Lord! When I consider a proportion of love, I am greatly troubled. If love should be according to the worth of the object; by how much Thou art better than I am, and more profitable to me than I am to myself, I should love thee more than Thou lovest me; but that I never can. O Lord, I beseech Thee, how much dost Thou love me? Is it weakly and remissly, according to my goodness? That be far from thee, Lord! Thou lovest Thine incomparably more than Thou art loved of them; as Thou art incomparably greater and better than they. But, O great and good God, that fillest heaven and earth, yea, the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; why dost thou not fill my poor little soul? O my soul, why dost thou not open all thy little doors? Why dost not thou extend thy utmost capacity, that thou mayest be wholly possessed, wholly satiated, wholly de-ebriated with the sweetness of so great love ? Especially when, though thou art so little, yet thou canst not be satisfied with the love of any lesser good. Many questions might be proposed to expostulate my soul into a flame of love. But I see, Lord, it is easy to speak and write these things; but it is hard to do and perfect them in effect. Thou, therefore, most good and Almighty Lord, to whom nothing is difficult, grant, I pray Thee, that I may more easily do these things with my heart, than profess them with my mouth." [Bradwardinus, De Causa Dei].

And thus, having, after my poor manner, put you upon practice, and pointed you the way from the lowest to the highest step of divine love, I am sensible that both good and bad have their exceptions ready against what I have delivered. The humble, trembling Christian,—he fears that if the lowest degree of love to God hath such heights in it, he shall never be able to reach it; and he is grieved whom God would not have made sad. On the other hand, those that call themselves Christians, though there is no reason for their usurping that title, without any consideration of either the duty or themselves, will bear you down, that they love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, and that they have always done so, and that they are unworthy to live that do not love God; and if you inquire into any particulars whatsoever about their love to God, they will rather quarrel with you than give you any satisfying answer. If I could, therefore, propose any thing that would apply itself, that is, by its own evidence work itself into the conscience, I might hope to dissolve their self-flatteries. I cannot at present think of a more compendious way of undeceiving both these, and of further persuasively urging the love of God, than by plainly naming the infallible Properties and constant Effects of this love; hereby those that despondingly fear they want it will find they have it; and those that groundlessly boast of it will find they want it; and both be instructed what must be done to evidence and exert it.

(And indeed, in the next issue, Mr. Annesley will look at the

properties of love to God.)

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