How We May Attain Love to God, pt. 15
by Samuel Annesley (1620-1696)
[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.
“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
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.
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.
© 1994-2017, Scott Sperling