[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 looks at the properties of 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).


Properties of Love to God

(I.) I shall now address the properties of our love to God.

And here, as in all the rest, I must study contraction; and therefore dare not particularly mention Gerson’s fifty properties of Divine Love. I shall rather follow Voetius’s method, who ranks the properties of Divine Love thus: They are, 1. Partly negative and privative; 2. Partly positive and absolute; 3. Partly comparative and transcendent. I shall speak briefly of each of these: your consciences may manage it as if it were a use of examination.

1. Negative properties or adjuncts are such as these; and these may prevent the mistakes of drooping Christians; and, alas! a great part of Christ’s family are such upon one account or other.

(1.) This divine love is not at all in the unregenerate, unless only in show and imitation.—That soul that is solicitous about loving of God, that soul loves Him. This is proper and peculiar to all those, and only those, that are born of God, that are the adopted children of God. Let it be considered, whether the devil can counterfeit love to God, as he can other graces. Their faith works by fear, not by love: "The devils believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). It is true, he doth not only suffer, but promote, an hypocritical divine love in some, and he may appear in a "lovemask" to others, as to Adam in Paradise: "God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5). He pretends he has both more kindness for them than God himself, and the like to Christ (see Matt. 4:3), but did he himself ever pretend so much as to love God? I grant, wicked men pretend to love God ; but the ridiculousness of their discourse plainly evidences, they neither understand what they say, nor whereof they affirm.

And whereas thou complainest that thou fearest thy love is not sincere, because it is selfish; be not discouraged: while thou studiest to please God, fearest to offend Him, prizest His presence, mournest for His absence, thy love to God is infallibly sincere, though there be an ingredient of self in it. Nay, let me say more, it could not be sincere, if thou didst not mind thyself. As in the very quintessence of conjugal love, it is impossible to abstract it from self-love; so the more we love God, the more we cannot but love ourselves, yea, even then when we most deny ourselves out of love to God.

(2.) This divine love is far from perfection.—It is subject to more sensible languishments and infirmities than any other grace, though it can never be totally and finally extinguished. What, though sometimes, to thy own apprehension, thou canst not tell whether thou lovest God at all? And what, though at all times thou complainest, of fickleness and inconstancy? What, though the time of thy fear be longer than the time of thy love? Yet while thine heart can say, it is unquiet in this temper, and it is thy restless desire to love God more perfectly, these very complaints speak love: we never complain of want of love to those persons whom we do not already love. This, as well as other graces, is here but in part (see I Cor. 13:10); while we are in this lower world, our very graces will have their neap as well as their spring tides. We cannot yet be so wise as to foresee all our hinderances, nor so watchful as to avoid all Satan’s ambushes, nor so perfect as to maintain a spiritual frame of heart. Though this grace is always in motion, yet it doth not always nor equally go forward.

(3.) Our love to God shall never be abolished.—"Love never faileth"; the same kind of love, the same numerical love that was in gracious persons on earth, shall be continued in heaven, and receive its perfection presently after its delivery from the body of death. There will be a greater change in all our graces than in our love. A great part of our life is taken up in the exercise of those graces, that, I may in some respect say, die with us. The one-half of our life is, or should be, spent in mortification. The whole of our time needs the exercise of our patience. Our life, at best, is but a life of faith. Much of our sweet communion with God is fetched-in by secret prayer. But now, in heaven, there shall be no sin to be mortified, nothing grievous to be endured. Faith shall be swallowed up in enjoyment, and your petitions shall be all answered. So that now, Christians, act yourselves to love God, and you shall no way lose your labour. Other graces are but as physic to the soul,—desirable for something else, which when obtained, they are useless; but love to God is the healthful constitution of the soul,—there is never any thing of it in any sense useless. Most of the graces of the Spirit do by our souls as our friends by our bodies, who accompany them to the grave, and there leave them; but now love to God is the alone grace, that is to our souls the same that a good conscience is—our best friend in both worlds.

(4.) This divine love is so unknown to the world, that when they behold the effects and flames of it, in those that love God in an extraordinary manner, they are ready to explode it as mere vanity, folly, madness, ostentation, and hypocrisy.— When Paul managed his audience more like a sermon than a defence, Festus cries out upon him as mad (see Acts 26:24). Yea, when Christ Himself, in love to God and souls, is more hungry after converts than food, His nearest relations think Him crazed: "And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself." But were they any other but His carnal and graceless relations that did this? See: "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee" (Mark 3:20,21,32). No marvel, then, that enemies reproach you, friends forsake you, relations slight you, and the world hate you (see I John 3:13). Christ tells us, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you" (John 15:18, 23). But how can the world hate Christ, who in love to it came to die for it? Christ tells His hearers the true reason: "I know you," (this is no groundless surmise, nor censorious rashness, but I know you) "that ye have not the love of God in you" (John 5:42). Let what will appear at the top, this lies at the bottom. And therefore judge, I pray you, who more fanatic,—those that hate God when they pretend to love Him, or those that are counted frantic for their serious love to God? I shall neither name more, nor enlarge further, on this first rank of characters, but be brief also in the second.

(We will continue looking at the properties of love to God in the next issue.)

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