[Here we conclude our series that has the goal of increasing our love for God and the things of God, with the final part of a study by Samuel Annesley, in which he examines, in detail, the greatest commandment..]—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).

V. The last thing I propose to do is to urge some persuasives to be graciously ambitious of such qualifications, and as graciously diligent in such exercises—And here I must bypass more arguments than I can so much as mention. For the truth is, you can name nothing in the world, but it may be an argument to promote our love to God.

1. Consider, God is our great Benefactor—I mention this twice, that it may be often in your thoughts. Who can reckon up the benefits we receive from God? If love be to be recompensed with love, greater love was never shown than this, that God hath given His Son to die for His enemies. If love be to be purchased at any rate, who can give more for it than eternal life? If love be to be bestowed gratis, who more worthy of it than God? And canst thou, then, do less than love Him? It is commended as an expedient to overcome the worst of our enemies: "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head" (Rom. 12:20). O what hearts have we, that mercies will not melt them! Reflect a little upon yourselves: we bargain with little children for their love. If we give them but an apple, or a plum, we presently ask, "Will you love me?" And if they promise to love us, we then inquire, "How will you love me?" O dear Christians, turn to your God! Solomon tells us that "a gift whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth" (Prov. 17:8). Shall God’s gifts be the only exception to that proverbial maxim? For shame, Christians! Let us strive who shall be first in crying, "O come let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (Ps. 95:6). "Know ye that the Lord He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture" (Ps. 100:3). "O love the Lord all ye His saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful" (Ps. 31:23). God is pleased to give us in actual possession what His wise love thinks fittest for us; and God is pleased to give us promises suitable to every condition we can be in in this world. For instance: in case of want, "Take no thought, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or, ‘What shall we drink?’, or ‘Wherewithal shall we be clothed?’" Surely, if we may be solicitous about any worldly concern, it is about food and raiment; but Christ chargeth us, upon our Christianity, not to be thoughtful about them: "For after all these things do the Gentiles seek." But if we do not take care for food and raiment, we must starve. Christ doth, as it were, say, "Nay; there is no danger of then; ‘for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things’" (Matt. 6:31-33). Were this believed, men should lay aside their callings. No warrant for that: Christ layeth down a rule for our practice, as the condition of the promise: "Seek ye first," not only, but first, "the kingdom of God and His righteousness," and then, in a way of diligence, not negligence, "all these things shall be added unto you." This in respect of want. Take another in case of danger: "The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" (Prov. 18:10). O how safe is that person that is, as it were, garrisoned in the divine attributes! In case of suffering: "Verily I say unto you, ‘There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s but he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time’" (Mark 10:29-30); an hundred-fold more comfort in parting with all for Christ, than he could have had in keeping all, and denying of Him. But why should I name particulars? There is enough in one scripture whence to form many incentives to love God: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). Pray mark this place.

We—It is not only the apostle, but all believers.

Know—It is not, "We only think or hope," but, we know.

That all things—All those afflicting providences which are most grievous to be borne; all those dark providences which we know not what to make of.

Work together—Though we cannot presently anatomize every particular providence, yet in their contexture we cannot but say they are gracious, and for good—for the spiritual and eternal good of all them that love God. "O, but here I stick, I cannot say I love God." Read on: the next clause is the best interpreter of this

To them who are the called according to His purpose—That is plainly, to those that obey Christ’s call in His word, to all that are converted, to all that are willing to be taught and ruled by Jesus Christ. And though thou darest not own thy conversion, yet thou darest not deny this evidence of it; namely, that thou wouldest fain comply with Christ in everything.

2. Love to God ennobles all other graces—I will not meddle with the controversy about faith’s being informed by love, or love being, as it were, the soul of faith. The scripture tells that "faith worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6); and it is by loving nothing so much as God. Love is the most ingenuous grace, the most heavenly grace, the most god-like grace: all other graces are more or less excellent, as they are enlivened with love to God. Sales illustrates it thus: "The general of an army having gained some renowned victory, will have all the glory of it; for he ordered the battle, and led them on: we name the services of the several parts of the army, both the vanguard, the body, the wings, the rear. So here, some Christians are singular for faith, others for alms-deeds; some for prayer, others for humility; but love to God commands all these; love commands patience to bear, and hope to wait, and faith to believe" [Sales, "Of the Love of God"]. Elsewhere he compares love to scarlet, which is a royal cloth not for the wool, but for the dye; so a soul, as it were, double-dipped in love to God, is the most excellent Christian.

3. Love to God rectifieth all other loves, and keeps them in due bounds—The same author hath this other illustration; namely, "I may love my servant: but if I do not love my child better than I love my servant, I am defective in my love. Well, then, I must love my child; but if I do not love my wife better than I love my child, I am defective in my love. Well, then, I must love my wife; but if I do not love God infinitely more than I love my wife, I am defective in my love. You shall see," saith he, "a mother so busy about her child, as if she had no love for anyone else, as if her eyes were for nothing else but to look upon it, and her mouth for nothing else but to kill it. But now, if she must lose her child or her husband, her love to her husband is so great as if she had no love for her child at all. So when God and those we most dearly love stand in competition, you may soon see the subordination of our love." Though, let me add this for your encouragement: God never calls for the hating of other things for love to Himself, but He doth most singularly make in Himself whatever any one parts with for Him. When God requires the banishment of other objects, it is to communicate Himself more fully, more clearly, more sweetly. Look over what Martyrology you please, I think you will scarce find so much as one dying for Christ any other way than triumphing; whereas many, of as eminent graces as they, die in their beds, little less than despairing. What encouragement may this be for the worst of times!

4. Our love to God doth more sensibly quiet our hearts, than God’s love to us—For though God’s love to us be infinitely greater than our love to God; yet, till His love to us have drawn out our love to Him, we do more abuse His kindness than other persons do whom He doth not so love. This is most evident in a person just upon the borders of conversion, but yet unconverted: God is abundant in His love of benevolence; He is now engaged upon the making of means effectual for His thorough regeneration. But now in this work there are several things to be done, which, though they speak greater love on God’s part than ever He before showed him, yet while God is at work, the person quarrels with God more than about any former providences of his life. God, to tame him, brings him under great afflictions; upon which he either flies in His face, or lies sullen at His feet, and thinks he may well do so. Well, but God will not thus leave him: God follows him with terrors of conscience; "the arrows of God stick fast in him, and the poison thereof drinketh up his spirits." But he will not yet yield; he holds fast his iniquity, which he is as loath to part with as his life and rather hates than loves God for all this kindness: so that till he is brought to love God, God’s love to him doth no way quiet him. By which you may plainly see that, let God’s love to us be never so great, we misinterpret all till we love God again; and then, let God do what He will, he is quiet; let his sufferings be next to hell-torments, he will not allow one hard thought of God. Therefore, be persuaded to get, increase, and exercise this love to God with all your hearts, souls, and minds.

I have been too long already, and therefore will be as brief as may be in answering these two complaints—

Complaint 1: "All that hath been said makes me fear, I have no true love to God at all. I cannot say, I love God more than the creature. I feel my heart more sensibly warping towards the world in the service of God, than springing towards God in my worldly affairs."

To this I answer by these distinctions:

Distinction 1. We must distinguish between the estimation of our love and the commotion of it—The commotion may be greater, where the estimation is less. One whose love is fixed upon God, though he is so far from forsaking God, that he will forsake all things for God; yet he may, till he recollect himself, be more moved with some petty loss. In short, he may have some violent gust of affection after other things; but the constant breathings of his soul are after God.

Distinction 2. We must distinguish between the solidity of our love, and the flashiness of it—Between a superficial and a lasting joy. For instance: a covetous man may laugh more when he is tickled than when you give him a thousand pounds; but he is a thousand times more joyful of his thousand pounds than of his being tickled. The soul’s love to God is well-rooted (see Eph. 3:17). As a sick man is pleased with one that will sit with him, and alleviate his pains by diversion; but he is more pleased with that man that shall cure him. While our souls are in a sickly frame, we are pleased a little with variety of diversions; but we soon see their emptiness, and charge our souls to return unto God for a perfect cure.

Distinction 3. We must distinguish between our spiritual love and our sensible love—While we live in this world, such is our weakness through the remainders of sin and imperfection of grace, that our animal and vital spirits are more affected with sensible things than with spiritual. The things of the world are near to us, and we cannot live without them; but yet he that loves God never says, upon the enjoyment of them, "Soul, take thine ease" (Luke 12:19). O no; he is angry, and grieved that he is at all pleased about such things.

Complaint 2: "I hope I am not wholly destitute of this excellent grace; yet I am afraid to own that I have it. Is it impossible to get my heart above this uncomfortable uncertainty? O that my heart were more raised and fixed above this anxious temper!"

I will close all with an essay to answer this complaint; only premise, let not anything that shall or can be spoken be wrested to give the least encouragement imaginable to anything of sin. Take heed you do not, upon any account, gratify your sloth or indifferency of spirit, or any sins of omission. Keep off this rock, and then thy solicitude about thy fickleness gives thee grounds of hope to get above it. Take, therefore, these short directions, how to get and keep the most certain, constant, comfortable, spiritual frame of divine love that is to be had upon earth:

1. Keep a severe watch against all sins—Yet give not way to drooping fears, because of unavoidable infirmities. "If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared" (Ps. 130:3,4).

2. Observe your own temper—What it is that most draws out your love to any person or thing in this world, and improve that very inducement to love God: "He is altogether lovely" (Song. 5:16); that is, imagine or name anything that is most desirable, most worthy to be loved and admired; and that is He.

3. Endeavour to love God out of duty, when, to your own apprehension, you cannot love Him out of grace—I would commend this to you for all your gracious carriage towards God, and for all the kindness you would receive from God. For instance: repent, as it is a duty, even while you fear you want the grace of repentance. Believe, as it is a duty, while you think you cannot act faith as a grace. So justify God, (that is, acknowledge God to be righteous, though He condemn you), when you fear God will not justify you. Sanctify God, (that is, celebrate God’s holiness), when you fear He will not sanctify you; that is, not make you holy. So set yourselves to love God; that is, take heed you do not offend Him; do all you can to please Him; take up with nothing on this side Himself. In short, let God find you in a way of duty, and you will find God in a way of grace.

4. Study Christ—What divine love we either receive or return, it is through Christ. You may look for encouragement from Christ for everything but sin. In everything have recourse to Christ, for the performance of every duty, for the attaining of every grace; when you fear grace is withering, Christ will revive it. In a word: pray and strive that you may feel what it is for "Christ to be all in all" (Col. 3:11).

Christians, practically mind these four directions, and they will be as the wheels of Christ’s chariot that is "paved with love," to bring His beloved to glory (Songs. 3:10).

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