[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 continues enumerating 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).

The Properties of Love to God (cont.)

2. The absolute properties of love to God are, among many, some of them such as these:

(1.) It is the most ingenious of all graces.—In poor, inconsiderable loves, not worth the mentioning, how do persons contrive ways for the expressing and exciting of love! And there is no way to prevent it. O how much more when the soul loves God! There is nothing meliorates the parts like grace. Divine love makes the best improvement of wit, parts, time. When a person loves to pray, though he can scarce speak sense to men, he can strenuously plead with God. A person that loves to meditate,—though he knows not how to make his thoughts hang together in other things, they multiply on his hand with a spiritual and profitable consistency. In short, to do anything that may engage the heart to God, what gracious stratagems doth love abound with! That as he that beholds his face in a glass makes the face which he sees;—his very look is the pencil, the colour, the art;—so he that loves God sees such a reflexion of God’s love to him, that a proud person doth not more please herself in her own fancied beauty, than this gracious soul is graciously delighted in the mutual dartings of Divine Love. Keep from will-worship and human inventions in the things of God, especially from imposing upon others your prudentials of devotion; and then I will commend it to you, to try all the experiments which the scripture will warrant, to increase the flame of your Divine Love.

(2.) Love to God is the most bold, strong, constant, and daring grace, of all the graces of the Spirit of God.—"Love is strong as death" (Song. 8:6): and everyone knows what work death makes in the world. It is not the power of potentates, nor the reverence of age, nor the usefulness of grace, can prevent its stroke: it conquers all. So doth love to God. Nothing can stand before it. What dare not love to God attempt? It designs impossibilities, namely, perfection; and is restless for the want of it. I may in some sense say, It would fain have contradictions true; namely, to be without the body, while in it; the body’s being a clog is so wearisome. Love to God not only baffles Satan, but, through God’s gracious condescension, it even prevails with God Himself, that God will deny nothing to the soul that loves Him.

(3.) Love to God is the only self-emptying and satisfying grace.—Love,—it is self’s egress; it is a kind of pilgrimage from self: he that loves is absent from himself, thinks not of himself, provides not for himself. But, O how great is the gain of renouncing ourselves, and thereby receiving God and ourselves! We are, as it were, dead to ourselves, and alive to God; nay, more, by love we live in God: "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (I John 4:16). By faith we live upon God; by obedience we live to God; but by love we live in God. It is herein alone that we can give something like a carnal (though it is indeed a highly spiritual) answer to Nicodemus’s question, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?" (John 3:4). We have our souls immediately from the Father of spirits; by regeneration we return to God again, from whom by sin we are estranged; and by love we live in Him, in some little resemblance to the child’s living in the mother’s womb. What the mother loves, the child loves; what the mother longs for, the child longs for; in the mother’s health the child is well. The child lives there in a far different manner from how it lives in the world: though it cannot stir out of its enclosure, yet it never cries nor complains of its imprisonment. So the soul that entirely loves God hates what God hates, and loves what God loves; its life is far above the life of others, and it desires no greater liberty than to be, as it were, imprisoned in God, to have no will of its own, no one motion but what God graciously concurs in: yet it is so far from esteeming this a restraint, that it counts it the highest happiness of its imperfect state. He feels a sweetness in that beyond what the heathen that spake it ever thought of, "In God we live, move, and have our being."

(4.) The love of God makes us anxiously weary of life itself.—In this love there is one death and two resurrections: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). Christ lives, and the soul lives; and both by love. I must acknowledge, all manner of love is apt to be extravagant and irregular; our very love to God is, in thus, blind, when it comes to any considerable height; it is apt to overlook (not in a way of neglect, but ecstasy) what is to be done and suffered, and would fain be at the enjoyment of God in heaven. By the way, let not doubting Christians be discouraged, because it is not thus with them. Though these properties be but in the bud, they may in time be full blown; therefore believe and wait; heights of grace are ordinarily as well the work of time, as of the Spirit of God. Besides, you know, there is nothing more common than for lovers to dissemble their love; so here, it is too common for gracious persons rather to belie the Spirit of God, than thankfully to own their love to God, because they are afraid of being mistaken, and they are afraid of boasting of a false gift; and here, though love, when it is perfect, it casteth out fear, yet while it is imperfect, fear proveth our love.

3. So much for the positive properties; I will be very brief in the transcendent properties of our love to God.

(l.) Love to God is the great general directing grace, containing all other particular graces in it, and most intimately goes through the acts of all of them (see I Cor. 13)—Love in the soul is as the pilot in the ship, who steers the ship and all its passengers. Love steers the soul, and all its operations. Love is the needle in the compass, that is still trembling towards its divine loadstone. J. Eusebius Nierembergius compares other graces to bullion uncoined; which, though it have an intrinsic value, yet it is not that money that answers all things. What shall I say? Find out a thousand transcendent metaphors, love will answer them all.

(2.) It is in a singular manner infinite.—Among all the faculties of the soul, there is none but the will that can, in any sound sense, be said to be infinite: all the other faculties are more bounded than the will. Now love is the natural act of the will; and love to God is the supernaturally-natural act of the renewed will. Its desires, which is the love of desires, are to be united unto God, the Fountain of all blessedness. And here, those that love God least, so it be sincerely,—their desires are infinite. For example: desires are the feet of the soul: their love will creep when it cannot go. Desires are the wings of the soul: love will flutter when it cannot fly. Desires are the breathings of the soul: love will pant, and groan, and gasp, where it can do no more. Again: the contentment and satisfaction of the will, which is the love of complacency, is infinite, in as large a sense as that word can be ascribed to creatures. Desires are the motion and exercise of love; delight is the quiet and repose of it. My beloved, to have the heart to delight in God, or to ache and tingle with the discourse of the love of God, through reflection upon the want of it, as unable to stand under his own thoughts,—this infallibly shows great love; and this soul’s satisfaction in God is in some sort infinite.

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