PREVENTING LOVE; OR, GOD’S LOVE TO US
THE CAUSE OF OUR LOVE TO HIM.
This Sermon was preached after the administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
at Portmoak, June 3rd, 1723.
“We love him because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
The great design of the gospel, gospel ordinances, and sacraments, is to commend the love of God in Christ. The sacrament of the supper is a love‑feast; and they that have their senses spiritually exercised therein, will find readily all their senses filled with love. What do they hear, but love! What do they see, but love! What do they taste, but love! What do they feel, but love! What do they smell, but love!—It is a sweet account we have of God, (v. 16). “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.” O happy they that have so learnt the gospel‑catechism, from their experience, as to be able to answer to that question, What is God? and to say, “God is love!” He is essential, boundless, bottomless, infinite love. It is true, if we look to him in the glass of the law, we will see him to be all wrath; a consuming fire out of Christ; but look to him in the glass of the gospel, and you will see him all love; a God in Christ reconciling the world to himself; and the sight thereof produces love; for, “We love him, because he first loved us.”
The text gives us a short account of the whole business betwixt God and a believer; they love one another. Here is love descending, God in Christ loving his saints; and here is love ascending, the saints in Christ loving God; and the former begetting the latter. When love hath descended from heaven to earth, it hath finished the half of its course; but when it ascends from earth to heaven again then the circle is completed.
Here is, 1. A description of God’s love; he loved us first. 2. A description of our love to God; we love him for this cause. And,
1. We leave God’s love described; “He First loved “us.” If we were to make a critical division, we might notice how it is described. 1. In the act, loved. O wonder that ever the heart of God should have acted that way towards any sinner of Adam’s race. 2. The subject loving; “He loved:” O! a glorious he, the infinitely holy and just God. 3. The object loved; “He loved Us;” poor wretched apostate Us. 4. The quality of this love; He loved us, and first loved us: intimating, both that it is an ancient love, for it is in the preterite [a past action] time, He loved; yea, loved from eternity: and also that it is antecedent love; “He First loved us,” before we had a being, before we were capable to love him; yea, while we were yet enemies.
2. We have the saints’ love described; “We love him, because he loved us;” which is also described in these four: 1. The act, Love; and indeed this love of ours is but a drop of the ocean of his love. 2. The subject loving, We; we believers, we that got a taste of his love. 3. The object beloved, Him; we love Him, who deserves our love above all things in heaven and earth. 4. The rise and source of this love of ours, “We love him, because he first loved us;” his love is the incentive and productive cause of our love. But I refer the further explication of the text to the prosecution of a doctrine. Many things might here be observed: As,
1st, None can truly love God, but such as are beloved of him. Many speak of the love of God, as if it were natural to them: but as true love is a spark of heavenly fire: so there is no love natural to man but the love of sin.
2dly, That God hath a people in the world that love him. There is in God a common love, whereby he loved the whole world; and a special love, whereby he loves the saints: and so there is in the saints a common love, by which they love all God’s creatures; and a peculiar love that belongs to God only, whom they prize above all other things.
3dly, That divine love works freely. God does not trade with us upon any terms, conditions, or valuable considerations in and about us. We can neither buy heaven nor beg it; it must be given. Let not the greatest civilian presume; let not the greatest prodigal despair: God’s love is first on the field.
4thly, That as God and his saints love one another, so the reason of saints’ loving God, is God’s loving them: there is no reason of God’s love, but because he loves. But there is reason enough for our love, because he loved us. The believer loves God upon God’s account, and for good reason; God loves us without any reason, or any cause from without himself; but we have all the reason in the world, why we should love God. Many say, they love Christ, but they have not any reason for it; they that love him know why they do so. There are three things [that] create love, viz., Beauty, interest, love. 1. Beauty; and O, but Christ is white and ruddy, and altogether lovely. 2. Interest; the more a man sees Christ to be his own, the more he loves him. 3. Love; the love of God is the great parent of love; it begets love; “We love him because he first loved us.”—But having taken this short view of the text, the doctrine I fix upon is this.
Observation: God’s love to the people is the source of their love to him. Their love is influenced by the faith of his love; his love is the cause of theirs; “We love him, because he first loved us.”
Now the general method that seems most native is,
I. To speak of God’s love to his people.
II. Of the saints’ love to God.
III. The influence his love hath upon theirs as the cause of it.
IV. Apply the whole in sundry uses.
I. To speak of God’s love to his people: and indeed, to speak of it is to speak of that which is unspeakable and inconceivable, for it passeth knowledge; only we may notice a few things that the scripture says of this love. I would offer some remarks concerning this love of God; and then show more particularly, the import of this expression, “He first loved us.”
1st, I would offer some remarks concerning the love of God, "
Remark 1. That the fountain of this love is God the Father. Love begins in order of nature with the Father: hence, says Christ, “I will not say, that I will pray the Father for you, for the Father himself loveth you,” (John 16:26). Christ prays for all the fruits and emanations of the Father’s love to his people; but not for the Father’s love itself. You mistake greatly, sirs, if you do not think that Christ doth purchase and pray for the Father’s love to his people; nay, it was the Father’s love that sent Christ to purchase all the fruits and communications of his love. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” The love of God cannot be purchased; there is no need of any mediation here; “I will not say, that I will pray the Father, in this respect, for the Father loves you.” Here is the fountain of the love. But,
Remark 2. That the channel through which the love of God does run from this fountain, is the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s love does not vent itself towards any sinner, to the disparagement of his infinite holiness and justice; and therefore it vents and flows in and through Christ, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness, for the remission of sins that are past,” (Rom. 3:23). God hath taken a marvelous way to manifest his love: when he would show his power, he makes a world; when he would show his wisdom, he puts it in a frame and from that discovered vast wisdom; when we would manifest the grandeur and glory of his name more, he makes a heaven, and puts angels, arch‑angels, principalities, and powers therein and when he will manifest love, what will he not do? It is a pity we should deny this love; because God hath taken such a great and mysterious way of manifesting it in Christ; his death, his blood, his righteousness; here is the channel.
Remark 3. The streams of divine love that flow from this fountain, in this channel, are vastly great; viz., pardon, peace, safety, adoption, ,justification, sanctification, audience of prayer, a blessing on all providences, and everlasting triumph in heaven. I cannot enlarge upon these, or any other of the streams that flow from this love of God; the streams are so many, so great, that we should lose ourselves there, as well as in the fountain, if we were to dive there into; only we are blessed in Christ with all spiritual blessings; and this love of God, and all the fruits of it, is to be enjoyed in the fellowship of the Spirit, (2 Cor. 13:13); where we read of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Spirit; where Christ is first mentioned, because he is next to us, as being the channel through which the love of God is vented; and this love of God, and grace of Christ, is enjoyed in the communion and fellowship of the Holy Ghost: and that this love is from the Father, as the fountain; in the Son, as the channel; by the Holy Ghost, as the immediate conveyance.
Remark 4. The vessels into which these streams are vented, or this love is poured, are sinners; even to them it is declared that he is the Lord, “The Lord God merciful and gracious, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin;” and that “God is love.” This motto, that “God is love,” is inscribed on the gates of heaven; and none will think strange of that, because the love of God, in bringing any sinner of Adam’s race there, is manifested to the highest. But we would think strange, if one should say, that this is even the inscription written upon the gates of hell, that “God is love,” why? his love to himself, and his own justice, is manifested there; yea, not only so, but millions are damned, because they slight redeeming love; and their conscience galls them, for contemning all the offers of love. But that which concerns us especially, is, that we may read this inscription daily upon the beautiful gate of the temple: I mean, in gospel ordinances, that “God is love:” for therein he manifests his love to sinner, even to sinners of Adam’s family, in the general dispensation of the gospel: and particularly to the vessels of mercy, in the especial operation of the Spirit upon them in the fullness of time: wherein he hath designed to pour out his Spirit, and so to pour out his love. But to omit many things here, I come,
2dly, To show the particular import of this expression, “He first loved us.” And,
1. It says, That his love is eternal love, and from everlasting: “He first loved us. I have loved thee with an everlasting love,” (Jer. 13:3): as it is to everlasting, so it is from everlasting: and it will never have an end, so it never had a beginning, but if is as ancient as the eternal God is. O! what an amazing thought is this, that God ,should have the thoughts of love towards any poor sinners, like you and me, from the beginning of his Being, which is without a beginning!—But, to prevent mistakes, you would know that the love of God is twofold: his love of destination, and his love of approbation: his love of destination and purpose, whereby he is said to have chosen us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy: “Having predestinated us to the adoption of children,’’ (Eph. 1:4,5): and this love he is said to manifest even before a man’s conversion, “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved him, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sin,” (1 John 4:19).—Again, there is his love of approbation and friendship: such as that spoken of, “If a man love me, and keep my words, my Father will love him; and we will come to him, and make our abode with him., (John 14:23). Now, the object of the former love, to wit, the love of destination, is every elect soul, and that from all eternity, as well as in time even before their conversion and union to Christ; the object of the latter, to wit, his love of approbation and friendship, is every believer united to Christ, to whom he begins to manifest his everlasting love personally; for, though he loved and approved of them from eternity in Christ, yet they cannot be said to be actually loved and approved in their own persons, till once their persons are united to Christ. Though God’s love be everlasting and immutable as himself is, yet there is a time wherein he begins to manifest his love: there is no variation or shadow of turning in God’s love; all the change is in the person beloved, not in God. It is mere blasphemy to say, that God begins to love them whom before he hated, in a proper and strict sense. It is true, the elect are children of wrath, even as others, by nature, whatever they are by divine destination, being ever the object of God’s love in this sense; yet in some sense, he begins to love them, in respect of the manifesting of his love to them, and the out-letting of his love upon them; while his love is taken, not so much for his immanent act, as for his transient act, not for anything in himself, but for what flows from him to them; the love that is in himself is still the same, but the acts of love that flow forth to them, these begin to appear, when he manifests himself to them, as he does not to the world; when he comes to them for their salvation, and reveals his Son in them: and here also he is still beforehand with them: “He first loved us.’’
2. “He first loved us;” it says, that his love is antecedent love; as it is first in point of time, yea, from all eternity, so it is first in point of order of time. We cannot manifest our love to him, till first he manifest his love to us. Men may feign love to God and Christ, before. they know anything of God’s love in Christ towards them, but they truly have no love to him; even the elect themselves have no love to him by nature, they are enemies, and without God, and without Christ in the world; buried in the grave of sin and corruption even as others; dead in trespasses and sins, and slaves to divers lusts; the devil dwelling in them, working in them, reigning in them, as a man dwells in his house, or works in his shop, or reigns upon his throne; they have no more acquaintance with him, or love to him, than others, till by grace they be regenerated, and made to come to God in Christ, and be raised up to a new and lively hope. Common favors indeed, they may have, and God is always sure, to notice his elect, and to have a care of them; and many remarkable deliverances will they meet with, even while unconverted. You will find few gracious persons but they will have even good things to tell of the Lord’s kindness to them in their youth; but yet love and hatred cannot he known by these things that are seen; for bad men have had the like deliverances, and manifold common mercies, and common grace perhaps also: but all this while they are strangers to true love to God, till once some rays of his everlasting love go before them, and make way for the breaking of their enmity, and engaging them to love him.
3. “He first loved us:” It says, that his love is absolutely free love. If he first loved us, before we had any love to him, or loveliness in us, O how free is it! His love is free in several respects. It is free love in that it is without force or constraint; we must even put ourselves in his reverence, and not think to compel God, as if he could be obliged to do it: nay, if we get anything, we must be in grace’s debt, and he at grace’s door, as poor beggars, for an alms for Christ’s sake.—It is free love in that it is without reluctance: it is with all his heart. There are some objects come to our door, and though we give them alms, yet it is with some reluctance: we are not so free‑hearted towards them as to others whom we have a kindness for; these we will give to, with all our heart: we give them with as much pleasure as if we were getting to ourselves; so God’s special gifts are given with all his heart; he takes pleasure in giving; he delights in showing mercy.—It is free love, in that it is without merit and motive; his love is neither desired nor deserved, and yet he loves: “I will love them freely:” I will do it undeservedly, even while they deserve to be thrust down to the lowest hell; “Not for your sakes do I this, be it known unto you.” It is free love, in that it is without price; he seeks nothing for what he gives, he takes nothing for it; nay, he deals with us as poor beggars that have nothing to offer for what he gives, and nothing wherewith to recompense his kindness, after he hath given.—It is free, in opposition to all proper terms and conditions. Papists tell us of the merit of congruity, and the merit of condignity; and many ignorant Protestants think they do enough, when they exclude the word merit, but in the room of merit they bring in a world of conditions; and tell us, upon condition you do so and so, then God will do this and that to you; telling us, God hath made a covenant with us, not like the covenant of works but upon easier terms, requiring only some little things accommodated to our weakness: “It cannot be called merit, say they, for there is no proportion betwixt what we do and what we get; it is, say they, but as if one should hold out a penny, and get a kingdom for it.” Many such subtle reasonings of men there are, that tend to exalt self, and self‑righteousness, which would all vanish before the light of this very text, if viewed in a spiritual and evangelical manner. “He first loved us.”
4. “He first loved us;” it says, that his love is a preventing love; it prevents our love, and all the good that can be about us; for he prevents with the blessings of his goodness. I might here illustrate this by showing, 1. The object of his love, whom he prevents. 2. The time of his love when he prevents them. 3. The dawning of his love upon them, whereby he prevents them. 4. The fruits and effects of his love in them, wherein he prevents them.
(1.) The object of his love whom he prevents. If we view whom he loves, we cannot but see it to be preventing love. The love of God lighted upon fallen men, not fallen angels, though much more noble and spiritual beings; and why? even because he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy: his love falleth upon the poor, foolish, weak nothings of this world for ordinary; not upon the wise, noble, and mighty; not many such are called; he reveals these things to babes, not to the wise and prudent of the world. We must not think, that outward things, such as wisdom and learning, and worldly advantages, move God to set his love upon any; “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight:” Yea, his love vents ordinarily upon the most stubborn and rebellious sinners in the world, more than upon the most civil and moral persons, that had led a better life than the generality of their neighbors; who have had more of the righteousness of the law than other people; who have been better‑natured, in respect of their pleasant natural disposition, than others; and who have had a liberal education, so as to be trained up, not only in manifold arts and sciences, but in manifold religious duties from their childhood. Grace many times passes by such persons as these, and falls upon more knobby, rugged persons. The young man in the gospel may be put to say, “All these things have I done from my youth up,” and yet go away from Christ, when a bloody Manasses, and persecuting Paul, are received into favor and mercy. In a word, whomsoever he makes the object of his manifested love in time, they are persons unworthy of his love: they are full of enmity against him, and bent to backsliding from him, and woefully averse from returning to him. That God should love sinners, and great sinners, O what preventing love is it!
(2.) The Time of his love, when he prevents them, does also illustrate this. Many a time he makes his grace to reach them, not when they are in their best frame or mood; but behold a Paul going to Damascus, with the knife in his hand, ready to cut the throats of the saints: grace out‑runs him, seizes him, lays hold upon him, and the love of a God in Christ overcomes him; he is made Christ’s prisoner, vanquished, and brought to subjection. I do not say, that it always holds, that a person gets the revelation of grace, when going on in sin, but the first influx of grace, towards them in many times, when in a very bad case: the Lord arrests them, many time, when they have been about some wicked act of sin: the Lord will fall in at such a time upon their conscience, fill them with terror, and humble them under his mighty hand; and never leave them till he hath quickened them, and made them live; “When thou wast in thy blood, I said unto thee, Live.” But what need we say more concerning the time of his love, to show the preventing nature of it, than what God himself says, —“Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated; the children being not yet born, neither having done good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth,” (Rom. 9:11): Before the man was born or had done either good or evil, behold he is an object of divine love; “Jacob have I loved.”
3. The dawning of his love upon them; whereby he prevents them, may further illustrate this. That he first loved us. By this Dawning of his love. I understand, not only the love and grace that is objectively displayed in the glorious gospel; but especially in the first glimmering of the subjective light, or the dawning of the day of power, wherein the person is made willing when the gospel comes not in word only, but in power; when he girds his sword upon his thigh, even his glory and his majesty, as that word may be read, for the display of the glory of his grace and love, is the sword whereby he subdues and conquers his enemies; (Ps. 45:3), and till this will‑conquering day of power take place, what is in the will but impotence and insufficiency, to think anything as of ourselves? and not only impotency, but aversion from everything that is good; and not only aversion, but opposition and contrariety to the holy nature and will of God: “The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” This Dawning then of the day of power, to make them willing, must take place before there can be any gracious motion in the soul towards God; for all the legal conviction and humiliation that goes before this, works only from a principle of self‑love, and self‑preservation, till this great master‑faculty of the soul, the will being conquered, carry the rest of the faculties of the soul towards God.
(4.) The fruits and effects of his love in them, wherein he prevents them. And here I will tell you some of these things that his love prevents, in regard that they are fruits of his love. And,
1. His love prevents our holiness; for that is a fruit of his love. I hope you know that sanctification and holiness is a work of God’s free grace, and so an effect of his free love: and yet, I fear, you betray your ignorance of the gospel in thinking, O must I not be holy before ever God love me? Must not a man be somewhat holy, and therefore God will love him, and give him more? O great ignorance to think so: “What hast thou but what thou hast received?” Is not the very first beginning of holiness from God? Is it not he that infuses the habit of grace, and takes away the heart of stone, and gives the heart of flesh: and so his love prevents our habitual holiness, and also our actual holiness, and all our good works? Surely you may know this; for you have learned to say, that as it is by his free grace, that we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, so it is by the same free grace that we are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. If any good work, truly good, be wrought by you, is it not the fruit of God’s creating power? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, unto good works.”
2. His love prevents our faith; for that is a fruit of his love. You will say, it is true, he must make us holy, but must we not come to him for it? Is it not upon condition that we believe, that he loves us, and saves us! My dear friends whence is it that we get faith? If ever we have any true faith, is it upon the account of foreseen faith that God loves any man? that is rank Arminianism. Is it because we had faith before? O! does faith come out of our own shop? Or, is it spun out of our own bowels, and forged upon our anvil? Can we bring faith out of our own head or heart? Can dry bones live, or raise themselves out of the grave? Nay, it is as impossible for us to believe, and raise ourselves up to the life of faith, as it is for a carcass of clay to put life in itself; nay, is not faith the gift of God? Is not Christ the author and finisher of faith? Who says, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me?” It requires the same power that raised Christ from the dead. O then! Let not your imagination in this matter cross the very first principles of religion, so as to think that your faith, if you have any, is the cause of God’s love, while his love is the cause of your faith, “He first loved us.”
3. His love prevents our
repentance: for that is a fruit of his love: Why, say you, must we must not
repent and reform, before God set his love upon us? And ought we not, by the
exercise of our common gifts and abilities that God hath given us, to work up
ourselves to something of this, in order to our obtaining the favor of God?
Alas, for such ignorance, and such a gospel‑darkening religion, as is like to
come in fashion in this generation! O! is not repentance as much the gift of
God, and fruit of his love, as any other graces and fruits of the Spirit?
“Christ is exalted a Prince and a Saviour, by the right‑hand of God, to give
4. His love prevents our prayers; for that is also a fruit of his love. You will say, though we cannot attain to be holy, and cannot believe and repent, yet we must pray, and seek, or else we cannot get his favor and love. Woe is me that people should have such dark and dangerous notions of the method of salvation! Pray, whence comes your prayers, if they be worth the name of prayers? Do they not come from heaven, and from the Spirit of grace and supplication? If you have any desires that are worth the naming, they come from above: and if they come wholly out of your heart, or head, they are not worth; yea, whatever desire you have out of Christ, and whatever prayer is not put up on this altar, the name of Christ Jesus, and by the help of the Spirit of Christ, there is no promise made to it: for, however, several promises are made to God’s ordinances and institutions, which oblige you to be about his hand in the use of means; yet no promise is made to your performance out of Christ. Expect then no favor for, or upon the account of your duties; for if that be your way of doing, you need to pray that God may force you out of your prayers. Let none think now that I am discouraging any from the use of means, and the performance of duties; nay, I take witness, that, in God’s name, I call you to the use thereof: and declare you are obliged thereto by the command and authority of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. But, in the same name, I call you to the right use of the means, the Gospel use of the means; for that legal notion of praying and seeking, that I find for ordinary among people, as if their seeking would prevent God’s love, and procure his favor, is derogatory to the goodness of God; and hath a tendency to make a Christ of their prayers, yea, more than a Christ; in regard it would be ascribing a causality to our prayers, which is not even done to the merits of Christ in this matter: for, as I said before, the love of God in itself, cannot be procured: Christ himself did not procure it; for God’s love prevented Christ’s mission, and sent him to procure all that he did procure and purchase: and therefore, if you think your prayers will purchase God’s love, you make more than a Christ of your prayers; and they are offensive to God, dishonoring to Christ, and prejudicial to your own souls. The saints themselves know that it is not by their duties that they obtain his love; but in duty sometimes they get a sense of his love. Why, nay some say, we need pray none at all, if we get no good by our prayers. Really, man, these prayers of yours, which you make your righteousness, and for which you expect to be loved, and justified, and saved, they are the most abominable to God, and unprofitable to you in the world, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices? Therefore bring no more vain oblation; your incense is abomination to him; he cannot away with it, it is iniquity, even your solemn meeting,” (Isa. 1:11,13; See Isa. 66:3). Therefore you have need to pray, that God would learn you the mystery of prayer; for you will never find it a pleasant, comfortable, and profitable exercise, while you set it before his love, as a cause of it; whereas it follows after his love, as a fruit of it. Hence all that ever prayed to purpose, or wrestled with him for the blessing, have found that they could not pray, more than they could move the earth from its center until his grace prevented their prayers; and they can all set their seal to that word, “I am found of them that sought me not,” (Isa. 65:1). None ever sought him aright, till free grace sought them out, and found them in some respect.
Question: But it is not
said, “For these things will I be inquired of by the house of
In a word, the prayer you speak of, man, is either, a natural or spiritual prayer; if it be a natural prayer, then, as the natural man is bound to pray, and yet hath nothing to expect, but of sovereign free grace, so there is no connection betwixt his prayer and the promise, unless we turn rank Arminians: If it be a spiritual prayer, then to be sure, the promise hath prevented his prayer; for to say that none of these promises are given, till a man pray in the Spirit for them, is cross to the whole current of scripture, and spiritual reason: for, how can a man pray in the Spirit, till that promise be accomplished in some measure upon him, “I will put my Spirit within you?” Thus his love prevents our prayers, it prevents our desires and endeavors; “He first loved us.”—And so much shall suffice for the first general head.
II. The Second thing proposed was, to speak of believers’ love to God and Christ; “We love him:” This is but a small stream that flows from, and runs again to the ocean of his love. We may take up this love of the saints towards God in the following considerations.
1. We may consider this love in its Nature. It is not a spark of natural kindling; it is not from natural reason or common grace, no; it is from the saving operation of the Holy Ghost, circumcising the heart to love God: the fruits of the Spirit are faith, love, and the rest of the graces: it is altogether supernatural; for the natural mind is enmity against God: we naturally hate God. Sirs, though the worst person in the world will say they do not hate God, yet they really do it; and their hatred appears in their aversion from him and his ways, their opposition to his commands and counsels, their contempt of his promises, and neglect of his salvation, and his Christ; for they will not come to him, that they might have life. It is God’s prerogative to turn the heart from enmity to love, from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God: no man can turn himself, more than the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, (Jer. 13:23). Men, by their improvement of their natural faculties, and by common grace, which most part of men have something of, come to a sermon, and go to their knees, carry somewhat of morality and modesty, but they are not able to command themselves to love God: nay, duty is a burden; the word is a weariness to them; they are mad upon idols; they make the Lord to serve with their sin; and their duties to serve as a covering to their lusts; and make use of duty for this, that they may be looked upon as good men, and not Atheists; but let them do their best, they cannot expel that cursed habit of enmity, nor introduce the contrary habit of love, till the power of God come along discovering the beauty and glory of Christ, and transforming the soul after the same image; for this love imports a saving knowledge of this glorious object beloved, a high esteem of the object thus known, a hearty choice of him whom we thus esteem, and a sweet recumbency in this choice. The understanding is made to see, the judgment to esteem, the will to chose, and the soul to acquiesce in him.—But these things I cannot enlarge upon.
2. We may consider this love in the kinds of it. And here I would speak only of two kinds in general, namely, a more common, and a more special love.
(1.) There is a more common love, which even hypocrites may have, and may have it as a fruit of God’s Spirit in this common operation, while yet they are not renewed in the whole man. As they may have a temporary faith, so they may have a love proportioned to this. The seed of the world falls into the heart, as into stony ground, and it quickly springs up in some flashes of affection, and fair flourishes of a profession, so as they may seem, to themselves and others, to be among the best of Christians, while yet it is not any special work of God’s Spirit, but a common gift and grace. The Lord designs to tame and civilize some, as well as to save and convert others. Now, this love, however great and vehement it may be in appearance, yet it is but a land‑flood at the best: it hath not a spring; it is nourished as a pool of water, not as a well of water; the water which the Lord gives to his people, it is in them a well of water, springing up to everlasting life, (John 4:14). But the hypocrite’s love is a returning to the Lord, but not with the whole heart. It is a love as is described in the Jews, “They served the Lord, and they served Ashtaroth:” To pacify their consciences, they will serve the Lord; but to satisfy their affections, they will serve their lusts: they never sell their all for the Pearl of great price; they never rest upon him as their present, only, and greatest good, nor find full satisfaction in him. They never come to that with it, “Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none in all the earth that I desire besides thee.” There is something beside Christ that they desire; they have some esteem of him, when he smiles on them in his providences, when they get ease to their consciences; and, by their false hopes of heaven, apprehend matters to be well‑enough with them. But when the Lord begins to frown, and the course of his providence is turned, then their love is turned into hatred; and the hatred wherewith they hate him, is greater than the love wherewith they loved him. As John’s hearers rejoiced in his light for a season, and but for a season; and Christ’s hearers cried this day, Hosanna, and the next day Crucify him; and, as many people followed Christ for the loaves, because he fed them; so many still follow Christ, some for outward things, and because of his general merciful dispensations: yea, some for inward things: O, say they, ordinances are pleasant; it is a sweet thing to get a tear at a sermon, and to be ravished with something of the glory of heaven, and privileges of the saints: no doubt the joy with which the stony‑ground hearers received the word, had its sweetness and pleasure, and thereupon their hearts are aloft, and they think they love Christ above all things; but yet their root is rottenness; they never truly come to Christ, to get rest to their hearts and consciences from the filth and guilt of sin. But,
(2.) There is a special love, whereby the whole soul is carried out towards the Lord, as the chief, present, and only good, and whereby the soul sees nothing in heaven or earth desirable in comparison of him; and that acts towards a present Christ, in rejoicing in him; and towards an absent Christ, by lamenting after him: it acts by cleaving to him, when they have the greatest temptations to go away, and it appears most when Christ threatens to depart; and it cleaves most to him, when many are departing from him; “To whom shall we go, thou hast the words of eternal life.” It counts all but loss and dung for him: Christ gets the throne of their hearts, the cream of their affections, the very soul of their souls, their most vehement love; whatever other things they love, it is but in a subordination to him; whatever other things they rejoice in, he is their chief joy; “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy,” (Ps. 43:9). Their joy in him exceeds the joy that they have in anything else in a world.
We may consider this love in the degrees of it. I would not be for the breaking of a bruised reed, or quenching a smoking flax; my heart’s desire is, that all that love Christ, even in the weakest degree, if it be a special love, may go away rejoicing in him; therefore I tell you of these four degrees of this love.
(1.) There is a love of desire after Christ, that is not yet arrived at a full complacency in him: “The desire of our soul is to thy name,” says the Church. A poor creature may have a rooted desire after Christ, that is not yet come the length of a rooted delight in him; because through unbelief they question their special interest in him: but, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” If a gracious desire after Christ be rooted in the soul, there is true love. Yea, further, this desire hath several degrees also: sometimes the desire is like a smoking flax, hardly can one discern the spark of red fire, only they see smoke as a sign of fire; a smoking flax.—This desire may be strangely choked, sometimes through the prevalence of unbelief even the children of God, that have sound and saving desires, may become so heartless, as that they have no boldness to come to the Lord, and express their desires; all they can say is, that there is something about the bottom of their heart of an earnest wish, that the Lord would come to them, when they cannot come to him: all they can say is, O, when will he come to me! or, when will he give me a visit! O, there is none in the world needs a visit so much as I!—Sometimes their desires are more vivid and lively, more bright and shining, and break forth in ardent prayers and pantings of soul after him: “As the hart pants after the water‑brooks, so pants my soul after thee, O God: my soul thirsts for God, for the living God. With my soul have I desired thee in the night, and with my spirit within me, will I seek thee early.” Sometimes, again, their desires become so strong, as that the person is made to put on a resolution, as David did, “I will neither give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eye‑lids, till I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it at Ephrata, we found it in the fields of the wood,” (Ps. 132:4,5,6).—Their desires may be such as to make them restless, till they get their hearts made a fit habitation for him; they may be such as to carry their souls aloft above all temporary enjoyments, and make them mount up on wings as eagles; and to look down upon all the enjoyments of time, and sublunary comforts, as altogether contemptible. But then,
(2.) As there is a love of desire, so of delight and complacency, whereby they take up their rest and satisfaction in him, saying, “Though the fig‑tree should not blossom, nor fruit should be found in the vine, &c.; yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Indeed, they that have found saving desires after the Lord, are unsatisfied till their desire be turned to delight, and till they attain this, “Whom having not seen we love; in whom, though now we see him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” When the Lord manifests himself to them, as reconciled in Christ, when he manifests his love to their souls, and opens the flood‑gates of his Spirit’s influences, O then they cannot but delight in him, and be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; for then they have a feast of fat things, and of wines on the lees, well refined: O sensualists, that never had a more pleasant hour all your days, than when you sat down to a hearty meal of meat or drink, you are but a miserable creature; there is meat to eat that you know not of, and joy that you intermeddle not with. O the joy and triumph that there is in the enjoyment of a God in Christ; “Thanks be to God, which always causes us to triumph in Christ;” always causes to triumph. It is true, the souls of believers may sometimes wander from the Lord, even after they have experienced this enjoyment; and never more readily than on the back of a sweet communion: their desires may wander after other things, they may fall asleep; they are not yet perfect, nor delivered from a body of death; and, therefore, after that they may come under doubts and great fears; and these may bring them very low, and may much alienate their hearts from the Lord: yea, but they are as the needle in the compass, that can never rest or settle till it comes to the right point. They can never rest till they get into his bosom; and they find their case a wilderness case, where they are wandering from mountain to hill, and then they say, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul;” and are made again to return to him, and take more delight in him than ever; and, by delighting in him, get an earnest penny of heaven.
(3.) There is a love of
benevolence and good‑will towards Christ, and his interest in the world, that
all his concerns in the world may go right, and that no weapon formed against
(4.) The love of beneficence, whereby we do all we can for the honour of Christ, the good of his church, the credit of his truths, and for bearing down every interest opposite to his.—But these things may perhaps fall under another head.
4. We may consider this love in the dimensions of it: as God’s love towards his people hath height, and depth, and length, and breadth, so there is something like dimensions of that sort in their love to him.
(1.) Their love is a high love, it hath a height; it is a transcendent love: they love him, above all things: they love him more than father or mother, sister or brother, profit or pleasure, credit or preferment: yea, doubtless they count all things but loss and dung in comparison of him. The language of their soul is, None but Christ: in all things he hath the preeminence.
(2.) Their love hath a depth: for it is rooted in the heart and does not float in the fancy. The love of many is but like a thaw, that will sometimes be on the face of the ground by the heat of the sun, while there is a hard frost below in the earth: so their love is but superficial, upon the surface of the soul: there is some thaw, but the heart is hard; true love hath a deep root.
(3.) Their love hath a breadth: they not only love his mercy and grace, but his faithfulness, justice, and holiness: they love not only his covenant‑promises, but his kindly threatenings; not only his favorable promises, but also his fatherly chastisements: they love everything that hath anything of God in it; his people, because they are his image; his ordinances, because they are his galleries; they love the place where his honor dwells; and everything that hath a divine stamp and superscription.
(4.) Their love hath a length in it, as well as a height, and depth, and breadth. It is not like the hope of the hypocrite that perisheth. Their hope and love, who are hypocrites, is built upon an airy fancy and empty imagination; it is built upon sand, and so it falls to the ground; but the believer’s love is built upon the faith of the promise, and the faith of the love of God; it is built upon the rock of ages, and so the building stands. Some will have a love to a thing today, and quit it tomorrow; but love to Christ will never go quite out. It is true, their love is not always exercised, or always equal in its exercise; for sometimes it is like a coal below the ashes, yet all the power of hell cannot quench it; for many waters cannot quench love: it may be over‑topped with the weeds of corruption, and out of view; for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit; and the flesh may be strong, and the Spirit of grace weak, but still the root remains, and shall grow up to perfection.
5. We may consider this love in the properties of it. Some of them have been touched in the preceding heads, therefore, in short,
(1.) True love to God in Christ is a free and voluntary love. Some people force themselves up, as it were, to an esteem for Christ, by using manifold arguments; and after all, it is but imaginary and mercenary love: they are not under the constraint of legal hope; expecting some reward for their love and service: but here the person loves the Lord for himself, and serves him without legal compulsion or co-action; or by legal fears of hell, or legal hope of heaven. As he loves them freely, in opposition to merit, so they love him freely, in opposition to legal compulsion.
(2.) True love is a sincere love; “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” It is a loving the Lord with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength: it is hearty, and hath its abode in the inner chambers of the heart. It does not lie in the tongue or lip, or the outward profession only, but in the heart, and affection, and soul of man.
(3.) True love is an ardent love: it is compared to fire that hath a most vehement flame: it is like fire for light; it is the discovery of Christ that makes the soul to love him, and it makes the man’s light to shine before men, so as his heavenly Father is glorified. It is like fire for heat: it heats the breast, and warms the affections, and flames towards Christ when he is seen. It is like the fire for its consuming quality; it consumes lusts and corruptions: Many waters cannot quench it; no water of sin, of affliction, or desertion, or temptation.
(4.) True love is active love; it makes the soul to act for God, and for Christ, saying, O what shall I do for him? “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits?” It constrains to services and sufferings for Christ.
(5.) True love is an uniting love: it carries out the soul towards union and communion with God in Christ; he affects communion with him in his thoughts and meditations; “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” Communion with him in his ordinances, communion with him in his grace, and communion with him in glory.
(6.) True love is a solicitous and careful love: it is careful to avoid whatever is offending to God, careful to provide whatever is pleasing to him; careful and solicitous lest it should lose his company; careful and solicitous to recover a sight of him when he absents himself.
(7.) True love is a bold and venturing love: it will adventure upon reproaches, persecutions, dangers, difficulties, yea, and death itself, for the sake of the Lord Jesus. When there are greatest difficulties, true love will cleave most to Christ: when there is a general apostasy, true love will appear most for Christ, as the two witnesses, (Rev. 11:3) When men make breaches upon the truth of God, the true lover of Christ will cast himself into the breach, as Pergamus did, (Rev. 2:13). In a word, when love cannot stand in the breach, it will mourn for the dishonor done to Christ, and weep in secret places for it. All these proceed from the invincible valor of love.
8. True love is a persevering love: when faith and hope, in some respect, will carry us no further than the grave, love will go over the border of time, and remain in heaven forever.
(9.) True love is a conjugal love, a marriage love: and as conjugal love is a loyal love; so is true love to Christ: It calls Jesus Lord and King: “He is thy Lord and worship thou him,” (Ps. 45:11). As conjugal love is a chaste love; so true love to Christ cannot endure a rival: it allows no mate, no lust, no Delilah, to come in Christ’s room, without the utmost abhorrence. As conjugal love is a reverential love; so true love to Christ carries towards him with holy fear and reverence, and filial regard. And as conjugal love is a fruitful and fruit‑bearing love; so true love to Christ, is a love that bears fruit to him: “Ye are dead to the law by the body of Christ, and married to another, even to Christ, that ye might bring forth fruit unto God.”—Again,
(10.) True love is an assimilating love: it changes the person in whom it is, into the image of the glorious and beloved object, and makes him desire, above all things, to be like unto Christ: saying, O to be holy! O to be free of sin! O to be full of God! O to be conformed to the image of Christ! yea, the more love, the more likeness.
(11.) In a word, sometimes it is an extatical [ecstatic] love, as if the man were beside himself, and out of himself: hence that proverb, Amantes, Amantes; like that of the apostle, “If we be beside ourselves, it is to God,” (2 Cor. 5:13). It carries the soul out of itself, saying with the church, “The voice of my beloved, behold he cometh;” it is an abrupt kind of speech, like that of a person transported, ravished, and in rapture: “The voice of my beloved, behold he cometh:” sometimes there is a ray of glory, a bright glance of the Sun of righteousness.
6. We may consider this love in the effects of it.
(1.) This love vents itself in prayer and supplication; “O God thou art my God, early will I seek thee,” (Ps. 63:1).
(2.) It vents itself in praise and condemnation; “My beloved is white and ruddy, the chief among ten thousand,” (Cant. 5:10).
(3.) It vents itself in wonder and admiration; “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
(4.) It vents itself in obedience and observation of his law; “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
(5.) It vents itself in hatred of sin, and every false way; “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.”
(6.) It vents itself in loving everything that belongs to God. And this might lead me to show how,
7. We may consider this love in the object of its and in the extent of its object: why, the true lover of Christ he loves a whole Christ.
(1.) He loves him in his person, as he is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, (Heb. 1:3).
(2.) He loves him in his natures, as he is God‑man; “Immanuel, God with us.”
(3.) He loves him in his offices; as he is a Prophet, to take away his darkness; a Priest, to take away his guilt; and a King, to take away his sin, and to subdue his lusts.
(4.) He loves him in his relations; as he stands related to God, being his eternal Son; as he stands related to the covenant, being the Mediator, Witness, Surety, and Testator, and all of it; and as he stands related to his church, being their Head and Husband, and all relations to them. You see what a large field I might here go through.
(5.) He loves him in his righteousness, both active and passive, as having fulfilled the law, and satisfied the justice of God in our room.
(6.) He loves him in his merit and purchase; he loves him in his Spirit and grace; he loves him in his commands, promises, and comforts; he loves him in his work and wages; he loves him in his ministers and people; he loves him in his gospel ordinances; he loves him in his crown, honor, and glory; he loves him in his cross, his reproach, and suffering; he loves him in everything about him, and especially in himself, as being altogether lovely. And this leads to another consideration.
8. We may consider this love in the grounds of it. Indeed it is a God in Christ they love: more particularly, if you ask, what are the grounds of the saints’ love to Christ? Why,
(1.) Their love to him is grounded upon his worth, beauty, and excellency: the soul loves him, because of his own amiable excellency. When the soul gets a view of Christ’s own beauty, and of the glory of God in him, his power, wisdom, holiness, grace, mercy, and other properties, his heart is ravished with love within him. O the thoughts of his worth, and his fullness of grace and goodwill is overcoming? “Because of the savour of thy good ointments, thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee,” (Song 1:3).
(2.) Their; love to him is grounded upon his undertaking for them, and accomplishing that undertaking: they love him because of what he did undertake from eternity, and perform in time: “Who loved me, and gave himself for me!” They love him, because he put himself in their nature, for their good; they love him, because he put his name in their debt‑bonds and bills: they love him, because he put their names in his last will, and in the book of life: they love him, because he put his Spirit, his nature, and his Father’s image into them.
(3.) Their love to him is grounded upon his Father’s love to him, and satisfaction in him: “The Lord is well‑pleased for his righteousness sake, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And, O but Christ be deservedly the object of the saints’ love, because he is the object of the Father’s love, who loves him, both as he is his Son, and as he is our Surety; and therefore as the sum of all.
(4.) Their love to him is grounded upon his love to them: “We love him, because he first loved us.” This leads me to,
III. The third general head, viz., The Influence that his love hath upon theirs as the cause of it. And here I would, 1. Clear and demonstrate it, that his loving us is the Cause of our loving him. 2. Inquire what Influence his love hath upon ours.
1. As the first of these, to clear this point, we would offer the following considerations.
(1.) Consideration is,
That a natural man, that looks upon God, can never have a heart‑love to him,
whatever he pretends. It is true, many fancy God loves them, and pretend they
have a love to him, like some in the church at
(2.) Consideration is, That the greater the sense of God’s love in Christ is, the stronger will our love to him be. Hence there are such different degrees of love to God among the saints, and even in the same saints, or believers, at several seasons, according as they have more or less of the comfortable apprehension of the love of God in Christ; for, although the love of God be not variable, yet our views and apprehensions of it are. Every believer hath his dark and gloomy days, as well as his bright and pleasant days; and the less sensible views he hath of God’s love and favor, the more sensible deadness in duty, and decay of love to God takes place. When the believer wants the faith of God’s love, his wings are clipped; but when his heart is fraught with a large measure of the faith of God’s love, then he mounts up on wings as an eagle: then the love of Christ constrains him: and his heart is enlarged to run the way of God’s commandments.
(3.) Consideration, That the love of God discovered, breaks the power of all these things that hinder our love to him. Is self‑love a snare to keep us from the love of God? Well, a display of God’s love breaks the power of self‑love. When Job got a discovery of the glory of God’s grace, then he abhors himself. When we know that God is pacified towards us, it makes us loathe and abhor ourselves, (Ezek. 16:63). A sinner is never so odious in his own sight, as when he is persuaded of his being precious in God’s sight. Does the flattery of the world allure men from the love of God? Well, but the displays of God’s love make the world to be crucified to us, and us to the world.—Christ’s love discovered, obscures all the seeming glory of the world, as the sun darkens the lesser lights, and as the works of nature spoil the reputation of the works of art. Do the frowns of the world scare us from the love of God and his way? Well, but the display of God’s love to us is a noble security against this temptation; for little matter who be against us, if God be for us; “His loving‑kindness is better than life;” therefore, though the rage of men should reach our lives, yet what comparison is betwixt the breath of our nostrils, and the favor of an eternal God? We do not love God in Christ, because we do not know him; but when his love is displayed, then he is known in the light of the Spirit, “As a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ;” the Spirit comes as a Spirit of light: and thus the love of God is shed abroad upon the heart by the Holy Ghost.
(4.) Consideration. When God displays his love, he at the same time transforms the soul to whom he discovers himself, and makes it a new creature. Now, the new nature is a grateful and loving nature; depraved nature may reward evil for good, and hatred for love; but it is not so with the new nature, it natively renders love for love; it is native to the soul upon the discovery of God’s love, his everlasting love, to be constrained to his service and obedience; “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Now this love, that is the product of God’s love, is virtually all obedience; and therefore love is said to be the fulfilling of the law; and when love takes place, his commandments are not grievous, but, pleasant; yea, when the love of God is in the heart, then the law of God is in the heart. But then,
2. To inquire more particularly what influence God’s love hath upon ours: “We love him, because he first loved us:” our love is just the reflex of his, as the sun shining upon a glass. Why, how does his love to us influence our love to him? (1.) It hath a moral influence, in point of motive. (2.) A physical influence, in point of power.
(1.) It hath a moral influence, in point of motive; and so it is the moral cause of our love; the incentive, the argument. What will move us to love, if the display of this infinite love does it not? We cannot but love such a good God, who was first in the act and work of love; that loved us when we were both unloving and unlovely: that loved us at such a rate, as to seek and solicit our love at the expense of his Son’s blood. O amazing love! Is there any motive can be stronger to engage us to love him again? What in all the world will endear a soul to God, if the love of God do it not?—So much as we see of the love of God, so much we love him, and delight in him, and no more. Every other discovery of God without this, will but make the soul to flee from him. If the faith and apprehension of his free love, of his ancient love, his antecedent love, his preventing love, such as I have spoken of, be no motive or argument to influence us to love him, there is no argument in the world will prevail.
2. It hath a physical
influence, in point of power; and so it is not only the moral, but the
productive cause. There is a power in his love that conquers, captivates, and
overpowers the man, so that he cannot but love: God’s love hath a generative
power: our love is brought forth by his love; “Of his own will he begat us,” (
IV. The fourth general head, was the application. Is it so, that God’s love to his people is the source and cause of their love to him? Then we may apply it for information; and,
1. Hence see the difference betwixt God’s love to the saints, and the saints’ love to God. It is true, their loves agree in several things: his love to them is a love of complacency, he delights in them: and their love to him is a love of complacency, they delight in him: he loves them in Christ, and they love him in Christ; but yet vastly great is the difference betwixt his love and theirs. 1. His love is eternal, their love is but of yesterday’s date. 2. His love is the original cause, their love is the native effect of his. 3. His love is an antecedent love, it goes before theirs, as the father loves the child, when the child knows not the father, much less loves him; yea, they are by nature haters of God. And surely all must begin on his side; “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us:” yea, his love not only goes before our love, but everything that is lovely in us; “God commends his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Sin imports all unloveliness and undesirableness that can be in a creature; yet he loves; but then our love is a consequential love. 4. His love being free and eternal, is always equal and unchangeable; for, “The Strength of Israel is not a man that he should repent;” but our love to him is unequal and changeable, up and down: his love is like the sun, always the same in its light, though a cloud may sometimes interpose; our love is like the moon, hath its waxings and wanings: his love, I say, is like the sun, always the same in its light. It is true, as the sun is sometimes under a cloud; so the fruits and manifestations of God’s love may change: now he shines, now he hides his face, as it may be most for our profit; but still his love in itself is the same.—Whatever changes affects the saints, whether as to sin or sufferings, yet God’s love to them is unchangeable. Why, were it not blasphemy to say, that God loves his people in their sinning, as well as in their strictest obedience? If so, who will care to serve him more? To which it might be replied, The love of God in itself is no more changeable than God himself; and what then? Loves he his people in their sinning? by no means; he loves his people, not their sinning. Alters he his love to them? No: not his love, but the discoveries of his love: he smites them, rebukes them, and fills them with a sense of indignation. But woe would be to us if he changed his love; nay, he is God, and changes not; therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed.” These very things which seem to be demonstrations of the change of his affection, do as clearly proceed from love to them, even his chastisements, as any other dispensations. Well, but will not this encourage to sin? “O sure he never tasted, as one says, of the love of God, that can seriously make this objection.” The doctrine of grace may be turned into wantonness, but the principle of grace cannot. His love, I say, being free, eternal, and preventing love, is in itself always equal and unchangeable but our love to God is an ebbing and flowing love. We are scarce a day at a stand. This hour we may be at this, “Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I!” And the next hour at this “I know not the man.” When was ever the time that our love was equal one day to an end?
2. Hence see the difference betwixt justification and sanctification: and the priority of justification to sanctification: We may here notice the difference betwixt the one and the other. Many are the differences betwixt them, but I confine myself to what the text imports. 1. In justification, God loves us, and shows his love in Christ; in sanctification, we love God, and show our love to him: for the comprehensive sum of active holiness is love, which is the fulfilling of the law. 2. In justification, we have the favor of God; in sanctification, we have the image of God; and the special part of his image is love. 3. In justification, we are passive, as when God set his love upon us; but in sanctification, we are active, while his love causes us to act in loving him. 4. Justification is God’s act of love without us, in and through the merit and righteousness of Christ imputed to us; sanctification is God’s work of grace within us, by the Spirit of Christ imparted to us as a Spirit of love, within well as of other graces. 5. Justification is perfect, equal, and always the same, like the love of God, the original cause, and the righteousness of Christ the meritorious cause of it; but sanctification is imperfect, unequal, and changeable; for the love of the saints, as I said, is up and down. 6. Justification is the cause; sanctification the effect; even as God’s love is the cause of our love. 7. Faith in justification is an instrument receiving Christ, as the Lord our righteousness, and apprehending the love and mercy of God in him; but faith in sanctification is an agent, employing Christ as the Lord our strength, to enable us to manifest our love to him. Thus we see the priority of divine love and favor, and acceptation and justification before any work of ours; and so, how can any maintain, that actual gospel‑repentance, which must be a work of ours, and a piece of sanctification at least, doth go before, and is necessary in order to justification, let the judicious consider, without repelling from our standards, and binding their faith to the belt of any fallible creatures, councils, or acts. That legal repentance, or humiliation and conviction, and sense of sin, does go before justification, in order of divine operation, is plain; and that habitual sanctification, or regeneration, and the infusing of all grace into the soul, is also precious is not denied: But the gospel‑repentance, or any part of actual sanctification, is necessary in order to justification and pardon, I do not see how it is possible to maintain that, without running into the Roman camp, and fighting with Popish weapons, and inverting the order of our text, making any part of our love to God necessary first in order to God’s loving us. But sure God’s method of doing, will stand in spite of hell and earth: “We love him, because he first loved us.”
3. Hence we may see, that as the persuasion that is in the nature of faith lies in the apprehension of her love and mercy of God in Christ to a man’s self in particular; so this doctrine of faith does not make void the law, but establish and fulfill it, if we consider love as the fulfilling of the law; for the language of this text, when read in the singular number is, “I love him, because he first loved me:”—“He first loved me,” there is faith’s apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ. It is true, a believer may say, I know not whether he loved me or not; but sure I am it is not his faith that says so, but unbelief; but the stronger that his faith is to be sure the more will he be able to say, “He loved me:” And the more he can say this, the more he can say the other also, “I love him:” And there is obedience, gospel‑obedience, the obedience of faith, which is a loving obedience; for the law of Christ is the law of love: it is blasphemy against the love of God to reproach it, as a mother of licentiousness, and a nurse of carnal security. They that have the love of God in their eye, can take no encouragement from thence to sin; for sin tends to cloud that light wherein they rejoice. If it were possible for a believer to think that God loves him, and thereupon should take encouragement to sin, then I am bold to say, it is not the faith of God’s operation takes place at that time with him, but only a fancy, and a strong temptation of Satan, working upon that fancy: for a true faith of God’s love, brings holiness, love, and obedience along with it, as natively as the rising sun brings light. God’s love of bounty displayed, does as natively bring in our love of duty, as it is natural for the fire to bring heat. Is it possible that God’s communicating his thoughts of peace to a child, will embolden him to new acts of treason? No; if the sense of God’s love did not wear off, and security and unwatchfulness wear on, the believer’s love would always be flaming in the fire of God’s love. They have no experience of the love of God, who think that the discovery thereof would give them a license to transgress.
4. Hence we see, that as the believer is perfectly free from vindictive wrath, from the curse and penal sanction of the law, so his gospel obedience is not influenced by slavish fear of hell, but by the love of God. How can the man that is actually justified, and accepted in the Beloved, and so the actual object of God’s everlasting, unchangeable love, ever fall under his vindictive wrath, which is the threatening and sentence of the law as a covenant of works? And, how can the believer that is obliged to believe this love, be ever obliged to serve from a fear of hell and vindictive wrath? That he may, through unbelief, apprehend God’s vindictive wrath, and fear to be thrown into hell, is plain from common experience: but that the fear of hell should be either a gospel-grace, or a believer’s duty, is some of the new divinity of our day. Filial childlike fear, which is the believer’s duty at all times, is every way consistent with love, yea, supposes and imports the faith of God’s fatherly love; but slavish fear of hell, and vindictive wrath, excludes and opposes it. See the context, verse 18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out (slavish and tormenting) fear.”
5. Hence we may see, the difference betwixt the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The order of the covenant of works is, in some respect, quite cross to the order here set down in our text; for, in the covenant of works, our love of duty was first to take place, and after that, God’s love of bounty, as the reward of our perfect love and obedience, according to the old covenant paction; whereas, in the covenant of grace, God shows first his love of bounty, and then follows our love of duty: Never does the soul turn his affections towards God, if the heart of God be not first set upon him. Herein differ works in the new covenant (for love, as I said before, is the sum of all work and obedience) from works in the old covenant; In the legal covenant, our love and work is first, and then favor and justification; but in the gospel‑covenant, God’s love and favor in justification is first, and then our love and obedience follows. As the same day that the waters went off from the earth, and were gathered into the sea, the earth was adorned with grass and flowers, and was fruitful; so when the deluge of wrath goes off from the conscience, and the favor of God appears in justification, then it is presently adorned with the graces of the Spirit, and love among the chief of them, springing up: whatever other motives engages to obedience here, yet love is the most prevalent motive; and here gratitude influences to obedience. In a word, the covenant of works was properly conditional to us, but the covenant of grace, however conditional to Christ, who hath performed the whole condition, in his obedience to the death, yet to us it is absolutely free and unconditional. Upon what condition have we God’s love and favor? Does not his love prevent all conditions? “He first loved us:” His love prevents the true proper condition itself, namely, Christ’s obedience; for his love sent him to perform the same; much more does it prevent all that men call conditions. O! how far is our obedience, even the obedience of faith, from having any casualty, or proper federal conditionality in obtaining salvation, seeing our imperfect love and obedience here is not the cause, but the effect of God’s love and favor partly displayed, and our perfect love and obedience in heaven will be the effect of the full vision of his glorious grace in heaven, where we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is!
6. Hence we may see the blasphemy of those who say, they are believers in Christ, and yet are not lovers of God; and who pretend to believe the grace of God, and yet turn his grace to lasciviousness, by continuing in enmity against him, and discover their enmity by their ungodly practices: the grace of God, that brings salvation, teaches us quite the contrary; what the law teaches perceptively, the gospel teaches effectively, viz., “To deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly,” (Titus 2:11,12). She is not the spouse of Christ, but an adulteress, that impudently abuses his love. They can have no true evidence of God’s love to them, who hath no love to him; for our love to him is the native result of his love to us; “We loved him because he first loved us.” The love of God discovered, knocks down the natural enmity, which is the root of all disobedience; and influences to love, which is the sum of all obedience.
7. See hence the eminent
privilege of the saints, whatever low thoughts the world may have of them. It is
an honour to stand in the presence of princes, though but as servants; what
honour then have all the saints, to stand with boldness in the presence of God,
and enjoy his bosom‑love? The queen of
8. Hence see where it is we may get our enmity killed, and our love quickened: it is even in the love of God. What is the reason that the world have no love to God? Why, they cannot believe his love and good‑will through Christ; and so they live in enmity. What is the reason that believers have so little love to God? Even because their faith of his love is so weak. It is by faith we know that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself; it is by faith we see the King in his beauty, and so cannot but love him; it is by faith that we hear his voice, and understand his words of grace, and say, “It is the voice of my Beloved:” it is by faith we embrace the promises, which are so many messages of his love: it is by faith we receive out of Christ’s fulness, and grace for grace; or, as the word may be rendered, “Love for love.” Faith breaks the shell of the promise, and then eats the kernel of God’s love and grace that is there. Faith is the bucket wherewith we draw, Christ is the well; God is the fountain, and love is the water that we draw: O! what get you in Christ, poor soul, whenever you go to him? Can you not say, O, I get more love to God than I had! I never approached near him but I got a large draught and ample fill of love to God: “Out of his fulness, we receive grace for grace,” and love for love. In a word, by faith we behold the glory of the Lord as in a glass, and are changed into the same image; and the image of God is love. O then, the little faith that takes place in our day, makes little love to God and his people; faith and love are like twins that are born together, and live and die together. Go to the root of all our backslidings, and you will find it unbelief; an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
USE of Examination. Try your state by this doctrine, whether or not you be in a state of favor with God, and the objects of his love in a special manner. How shall I know if he hath loved me? You may know it by that fruit and evidence of it in the text: if he hath manifested his love savingly to you, then you will love him, because he hath loved you.
Question: How shall I know, if I have that love to him that is the fruit and effect of his first loving me?
Answer: 1st. If your love to him be such as is the fruit of his love to you, then you have been convinced of your natural enmity, and that you never had any love, nor could have it, unless the Lord in love had in some measures manifested himself in his grace. Many speak of their loving God all their days as if it were natural for them to love God; poor creatures they never saw or considered, that they were born with a dagger of enmity in their hearts against God. These that truly love him have seen their want of love, and something of the power and strength of their enmity; and got it, in some measure, broken in a day of power.
2dly. If you have such love to him as is the fruit of his love to you, then you have seen his glory, and particularly the glory of his grace, and love to draw out your love towards him: “Shew me thy glory” says Moses to God: Yea, says Gods “I will make all my goodness pass before thee.” His goodness and his love is his glory. If you have seen his glory, surely you count all things but loss and dung, in comparison of him.
3dly, If you have such love, as the fruit of his love, then his loveliness and excellency hath engaged you to choose him; to choose himself, for your God; his Christ, for your husband; his covenant for your charter; his precepts for your rule; his people, for your companions; his purchases for your jointure; his Spirit, for your guide; his promise, for your cordial; his glory, for your aim. If you have chosen him thus and resolve to abide by your choice, it is a fruit of his choosing you from eternity: “You have not chosen me [first], but I have chosen you.”
4thly. If you have such love to him as is the fruit of his loving you, then it is the faith of his love, than in a special manner, will influence you to obedience, in all the duties of religion; “If you love me, keep my commandments:” Yea, the faith of his love will influence you to such a love to him as will bring forth all the fruits of true love. And here I will tell you of some of the fruits of true love to God, by which you may try your love to him.
1. One fruit of true love is this; true love will make you love. to be with him on earth, and long to be with him in heaven.
(1.) On the one hand, true love will make you love to be with him on earth; and this love will make you rejoice when he is present, saying, “O! my soul shall rejoice in God my Saviour:” And it will make you lament when he is absent, saying, “O! that I knew where I might find him!” You will love to be with him in your desires saying, He is the desire of all nations, and the desire of my soul. You will love to be with him in your delights saying, “A bundle of myrrh is my Beloved to me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.” You will love to be with him in your walk and conversations desiring to have your conversation in heavens and to walk with him. You will love to be with him in your esteem saying, “Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none on earth that I desire beside thee.” You will love to be with him in your thoughts and meditations, saying, “My meditation of him shall be sweet.” You will love to be with him in your duties and performances; in reading and hearing and singing; in communicating in praying. You will love to be with him, and to have him with you: particularly to be with him in prayers is the most frequent thing with the believer: how does he love to unbosom himself to God! The legalist may do the duty, but to be with Christ in it, is what he is not much taken up with; the believer is taken up with prayers as a mean of communion with God. O! I cannot stay away from him, though he shut the door upon men and cover himself with a cloud, that a prayer cannot pass through; I cannot be absent from him. It is one of the main things that makes earth tolerable to the believers that he hath sometimes access to God, in Christ, by the Spirit in prayer. If it were not for some sweet meetings that he hath with the Lord this way, he would even be crying, O what a weary place is this earth! O let me out of it! I say, the true lover loves to be with God, and to have God with him. How does he love to have God with him by his sanctifying grace by his enlightening, enlarging, enlivening, and comforting grace? True lovers love one another’s company. And,
(2.) As the true lover of Christ loves to be with him here, so on the other hand, he longs to be with him hereafter. O to be in the place of perfect love, where there will be an eternal emanation of the love of God! O to be in the place of perfect likeness to Christ! “For when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Though they are reconciled to his will, and made content to abide here, while he pleases, yet they are even longing for that day, when they shall have the immediate fruition of him, and be delivered from all sin: they desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all. A carnal man may say, O to be out of an evil world! but the heart of the true lover says, O to be with Christ? It is true, when the believer’s love is in fresh exercise, he will even sometimes be willing to abide in this world, notwithstanding of all the troubles and trials that are in it, if so be he may glorify God in it; whether by suffering for him, or giving a testimony against sin, and for the truth and honour of the Lord Jesus. O! if I may be of any use to any of thine; if I may be of any service to thy Majesty, and glorify thee by doing or suffering; if thou wilt help me to serve and honour thee in my life, let me even beg from door to door in the wilderness; through grace I will cheerfully endure any trouble, and glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. This submission is not inconsistent with his longing to be with the Lord.—Thus, I say, true lovers of God, they love to be with him on earth, and long to be with him in heaven.
2. True love will make you long to be like him, saying, O to be holy, as God is holy! O to be conform to the image of his Son! O to be like unto Christ! Indeed, the man that hath most of the image of God, will readily see himself the most unlike to him: and look upon himself as the most unholy person on earth. O! my understanding is like a dark dungeon, my will is like a devil, and my heart like a hell; and yet something of the light of God it is that thus discovers him to himself, so unlike to God: and something of the love of God it is that makes him love to be like him, and desire above all things to be quit of sin, which is the devil’s image, and to be endued with holiness, which is God’s image.
3. True love will make you love to live upon him: you will love to live upon God, the fountain of living water; and love to live upon Christ, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. The lover of God is one that loves to live by faith on the son of God; to him to live is Christ: Christ is the Alpha and Omega of his life; the food and medicine of his life; the Author and Restorer of his life; and the whole business of his life, Many have little business with Christ; but the true believer, the true lover, Christ is the whole business of his life: like the woman that, they say, took the body of her dead husband and ground it to powder, and drank the powder in her daily drink, and so made her body a living tomb for her dead husband. The believer is to live still upon a dead and crucified husband.
4. True love to God will make you to reverence him: godly fear is a true mark of love; you will have a holy fear of displeasing him; you will have a jealous fear, lest your deceitful heart lead you aside from him: “We receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace [or, let us hold fast grace] whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire,” (Heb. 12:28,29). All this is inconsistent with the slavish fear of hell: for the faith of receiving the kingdom that cannot be moved, and the fear of hell, which is a being excluded from that kingdom, are contradictory; but let us fear our God in Christ, who hath discovered himself in Christ to be even a consuming fire; for this fire of infinite justice took hold of the man Christ Jesus. When God dwelt in the bush of our nature, the bush burned in the flame of divine wrath, and justice was satisfied this way: herein God gave a more awful sentence of his becoming a consuming fire, in taking vengeance upon sin in the Surety, than can be given by all the flames of hell, in which the wicked burn for eternity. But here God being in the bush, the bush burnt, but was not consumed: “He that was dead, is alive; and, behold! he liveth for evermore.” But we may turn aside, and see this great sight, the bush burning, Christ satisfying divine justice: and what in the world should more influence to a holy fear than this?
5. True love will make you to think well of him, and think no evil of him: “Love thinketh no evil,” says the apostle. You will entertain good thoughts of God; and construct all he does in the best sense: though, in affliction, a saint may have harsh thoughts of God, and under a fit of temptation, yet habitually he entertains good thoughts of all God’s dealings towards him. This or that dispensation or affliction, however severe, is either to mortify some lust, or to exercise some grace, or to discover some corruption, and remove it. “O! how good is he that will not let me alone in my sins, nor let me go with my faults, nor cease to be a reprover! Love thinks no evil.”
6. True love will make you love what he loves, and hate what he hates; and also love as he loves, and hate as he hates.
[1.] True love will make you love what he loves, and hate what he hates; and particularly to love his friends, and hate his enemies.
1st, To love his friends; his friends in office, and his friends in heart.
(1.) His friends in
office; his ministers, whose office it is to commend Christ: surely they that
love God, will love his friends; they that love Christ the Bridegroom, will love
the friends of the Bridegroom, whose work it is to set them forth: “How
beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of them that preach the gospel of
peace, that bring glad tidings of good things, that publish salvation!” (Isa.
(2.) They love his friends in heart, as well as his friends in office; the saints, the excellent ones of the earth, are these in whom is all their delight. “He that loves him that begat, loves him that is begotten.” They love the brethren, as in the verse following the text; “How can he say that he loves God, whom he hath not seen, when he loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen?” He that loves the parent, will love the child: they that love God, will love his children, that have his image, as a man will love the very picture of the person whom he loves: they love the saints, though poor, as a man will love gold, though in a rag; and also will love them, though afflicted, even as metal in a furnace may be loved.
2dly, As the true lovers of God will love his friends, so they will hate his foes and enemies, whether it be his open enemies without, or his secret enemies within.
(1.) His open enemies without, even all the wicked and ungodly world; “Do not I hate them that hate thee; and am grieved with them that rise up against thee?” They that can delight in fellowship with these that are drunkards, swearers, and blasphemers of the name of God, surely they cannot have the love of God at least in exercise: the true lover of God hates the wicked as such. It is true, as they are the children of Adam bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh; as they are poor miserable creatures like themselves, they love them with a love of pity; but as enemies to God, and in rebellion against him, they can have no delight in them; their company is a burden to them.
(2.) As they hate his open enemies without, so they hate his secret enemies within; and these are their own lusts and corruptions. They hate sin, who love God; and are engaged in a warfare against sin, and hate their own lusts. He that loves God hates sin, whether in himself or others; he hates sin as God’s enemy, and as that which is displeasing and dishonoring to him; and as that which mars communion with God, that provokes him to anger, and unfits them for his service. O that loathsome, ugly thing sin! that evil of evils, and devil of devils! The man pursues it unto death, and cannot rest till he gets his hands imbrued, as it were, in its heart’s blood: they have taken up arms against it in the name of the Lord, and resolved never to lay them down till it be mortified and killed. They find indeed sometimes sin very lively and strong in them, and themselves led captive by the law of sin; but this animates them so much the more to pursue it to death. And, as they hate sin in themselves, so also in others; “I beheld transgressors, and was grieved.” I would not give much for your pretensions to love, if you have no zeal against sin; love is the fire, zeal is the flame: they that love the Lord will chew forth indignation against sin.—Thus, I say, true lovers of God will love what he loves, and hate what he hates.
[2.] True love will not only hate what he hates, and love what he loves, but hate as he hates, and love as he loves.
1st, They will hate as he hates; they will hate sin as God hates it; I speak not of degrees, but of similitude.
(1.) God hates sin with a natural hatred, as opposite to his nature, will, and law, and dishonoring to him: so the true lover of God will hate sin with a natural hatred; I mean by virtue of his new nature, he will hate it as opposite to God’s nature and will, and dishonoring to his God.
(2.) God hates sin with a perfect hatred, and so does the true lover of God; they say of God’s enemies within them, as David, “I hate them with a perfect hatred,” (Ps. 139:21): their hatred is going on to perfection.
(3.) God hates sin with an everlasting hatred; he will never be reconciled with it: so the true lover of God hates sin with an everlasting hatred; a durable hatred; they will never be friends with it.
(4.) God hates sin with a grievous hatred: sin grieves his Spirit; and is, as it were, a burden to him: he is pressed under it as a cart under sheaves: so the true lover is grieved with the body of sin and death, and pressed under it.
(5.) God hates sin with a parting, separating hatred; he casts it away with loathing and abhorrence, being of purer eyes than that he can behold iniquity: so the true lover hates sin so as to part with it and separate from it: and, while he cannot get himself rid of it, he loathes himself for it.
(6.) God hates sin with an avenging hatred; he takes vengeance upon it wherever it is: even when it is found but imputatively in Christ, he took vengeance upon it in the Surety: so the true lover of God hates sin with an avenging hatred: yea, what revenge does he meditate against it! (2 Cor. 7:11). He would sometimes be at Samson’s work, to pull down the house of that tabernacle upon the Philistines, to be avenged upon it, and cannot rest till it be destroyed: he looks upon himself as wretched, so long as it remains with him: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this sin and death?”—Thus he hates as God hates.
2dly, They love as God loves. It is true, God’s love to them is infinite, their love is but finite; his love to them is the love of a God, their love to him is but the love of creatures; —yet their love bears some resemblance of his love.
(1.) God’s love to his creatures is a remembering love: he never forgets them; “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, she may; yet will I not forget thee, saith the Lord.” So, true love to God is a remembering love: they cannot forget God; they remember his love more than wine. “I will never forget thy precepts, for by them thou hast quickened me.” I can never forget such a word, such a glance, such a visit, such a day, such a sermon, such a bank, such a valley, such a chamber, where God manifested himself.
(2.) God’s love to his people is a hearty and cordial love; he loves them with all his heart; so, where true love is, it will be with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength: as with the heart man believes, so with the heart the believer loves.
(3.) God’s love to his people is a manifested love; he does not conceal his love, but discovers it: so true love to God will be a manifested love; it will manifest itself, and vent itself in prayer, in and praises, in zeal, in obedience; “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” The true lover will vent his love by desiring to keep Christ’s words, keeping them in the heart; “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I may not offend thee;” keeping them in the practice, by ordering the conversation aright.
(4.) God’s love to his people is an uniting love; it brings them to union with himself; so true love to God is uniting; desires union, and cleaves to the Lord; it affects nearness: more and more nearness: and still more and more nearness.
(5.) God’s love to his people is a prevailing love; it had many hindrances in its way: mountains of guilt, mountains of sin, mountains of provocation, yet he did not call back his love again: even so, true love to God, notwithstanding of hindrances and opposition from earth and hell, and corruption within, yet is not drawn back, but labors to prevail: and will, through grace, fight its way through all difficulties: “For love is strong as death.”
(6.) God’s love to his people is a rejoicing love; he rejoiceth in his love; so where true love to God is, the man will rejoice in his love; delight in God and Christ, and be joyful in the God of his salvation.
(7.) God’s love to his people is a resting love, “He rests in his love,” (Zeph. 3:17); when it comes it never thinks of removing any more; “This is my rest, here will I stay:” so where true love to God is, it is a resting love; it stays, “Return to thy rest, O my soul” The true lover of God hath no resting place but a God in Christ.
(8.) God’s love to his people is a communicative love; his love inclines him and engages him to make over himself, and all that he hath, for the good of his people: so, where true love to God is, it is such a communicative love, that it makes the soul to give himself, and all that he is, and hath, to the Lord; he commits his soul, body, and all the concerns of his salvation to him.
(9.) God’s love to his people is a distinguishing love; he loves them above all others: “Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable; and I have loved thee,” (Isa. 43:3,4). So their love to him is superlative love: they love him above all things: and in all things he hath the pre‑eminence.
(10.) God’s love to his people is in Christ; they are accepted in the Beloved: so, true love to God is a love to God in Christ: out of Christ they cannot love him, but fear and flee from him: but in Christ he is amiable and lovely to them.—Now, by these things you may try whether you love God, so as your love is a fruit of his first loving you.
Use of Exhortation. Is God’s love to his people the cause of their love to him? then be exhorted, 1. To seek the view of God’s love to you. 2. To render him love for love.
1. Seek a view of God’s love to you; say not in your heart, Alas! all are not loved of God, and it may be not you; but rather say, Many are the objects of his love, and why not me? Why, say you, the first object of faith cannot be to believe that God hath loved me. Indeed you cannot know God’s love to you, till he manifest the same; and he does not manifest his love but in Christ, in whom is proclaimed peace on earth, and good‑will towards men, because Christ hath brought in glory to God in the highest; and therefore the way to know the love of God to you, is to believe his love and goodwill in him: and in coming to him, the love of God is known and believed. How do the saints get to know the love of God to them? It is even by believing his love in Christ; “We have known, and believed the love that God hath to us,” (1 John 4:16). If you look to God out of Christ, you never see his love to you, or any sinner like you, but wrath and vengeance issued out against you; but if you look to God in Christ, then you may see goodwill towards men; for God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.—Why say you, I cannot find any love in my heart towards God; and therefore, how can I believe his love or heart to be towards me? Indeed, man, you will never love God till you take up something of his love and goodwill towards you; your way of doing is a preposterous course, and a way to rob God of his glory, to think, you must love him first, and then expect that he will love you: lay down your carnal reasoning, and seek grace to apprehend the mercy of God in Christ, and that will open your soul to let your love towards him.—Why, say you, I see no ground why he should love me! there is no cause, no reason in the world, but all the reason in the world, why he should not love me; and therefore, how can I be persuaded of his thoughts of love towards me? To this we might reply, That God speaks love, mercy, and goodwill towards you man, you woman, by this gospel, as particularly as ever he did to an elect soul, the day before he met with the day of power; for the general tenders of grace in the gospel are to all: and as for a cause of love, he hath as much cause to fix his love on you as ever he had upon any of the children of men; that is, he had no cause at all without himself: and if you can attain to believe his grace and goodwill towards you, and that by faith of his own operation, you shall not be deceived. When I call you to believe thus, I am not calling you to fancy that God loves you, or to persuade yourselves in a natural way; nay, I call you to a saving faith, which I know you can never attain unto without a pull of omnipotency: and if that power accompany the call, then the duty called to will be put in practice, and not otherwise: therefore, O seek the power of God to persuade you of the goodwill of God in Christ. All that hear me are obliged to receive Christ, as a token of God’s love; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, and receiveth him, might not perish, but have everlasting life. He that believeth, shall be saved: he that believeth not, shall be damned.” If there be insuperable difficulties and objections in your way, I cannot help it; the God who calls you can remove them; but it is at your peril, if you reject his call: you shall never have it to say in hell, that the goodwill and favor of God was never proclaimed to you; for I take the mountains and hills that are in your view, to witness, that I proclaim, through Christ, “Peace on earth, and goodwill towards men;” and that “God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Why, would you have the greatest sinner, and vilest debauchee among us all, to believe the goodwill of God towards them? To this we reply, Whilst you are in a sinful state, you are indeed under the wrath and curse of God; and if you continue therein, you will be damned forever, as sure as God lives; and you will continue there forever, unless you come to get the apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ; but whenever you get this apprehension of God’s love, then I defy you to continue in a state of sin, or in a course of sin and enmity. Will a man receive Christ, and believe the love of God in him, and yet keep fast hold of his lusts? No, I defy him, it is not possible; and therefore it is to kill your enmity and destroy your sin, that God would have you to believe his goodwill in Christ. I remember that story of a godly man that said to a witch, when nothing else could soften her heart, “I do, says he, in the name of the Lord Jesus, charge you to come to Christ for salvation; to come to him for faith, repentance, and remission of sin, and you shall have acceptance, and be received into the favor of God in him.” The poor witch was made to say, “O, Sir, shall I believe your word?” “My life for you,” says he, “if you rely on Christ.” Immediately her bands were loosed; and the Lord brought her to a deep humiliation for sin, and sense of the favor of God, so as she gave clear evidence unto every discerning person, that the Lord had shown mercy to her. O if you knew how the Lord is saying to his servants, O fy [shame] upon you! will you not compel those people to come in and close with Christ, as the great pledge of God’s love? O! go to God when you can get an opportunity to be alone, and say, Lord, I have been called to believe, but my heart is hard, and thou only can break it; O! come and save the chiefest of sinners, whereby thou wilt get more glory than ever thou had by any of Adam’s posterity; cry to him, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”
2. I would exhort you to render him love for love; and this exhortation concerns believers particularly. O, love him, because he first loved you. What a shame is it for you, believer, if you do not love him who first loved you! And to engage you, consider,
(1.) Whose love it is: it is the love of him, who in himself is all sufficient, who hath no need to go forth with his love to others; the love of a God, O what a vast consideration is it!
(2.) Consider who you are that are the objects of his love; so wicked, so wretched, so unworthy of his love; That God should love the glorious angels is no wonder; for they are messengers and ministers executing his pleasure: that he should love inanimate creatures is not strange; for hail, snow, vapor, and stormy wind fulfill his word: but to love you is a wonder; and to love you while enemies.
(3.) Consider what sort of love it is. It is eternal love; before the foundation of the world, his delights were with the sons of men, from eternity: the very thought of this is enough to make all that is within you, like the babe in the womb of Elizabeth, to leap for joy, that you lay in the bosom of his love from eternity: and will you not love him!—His love is a free love; if you deserved his love, his love would be of less value; but that which is eternally antecedent, must be absolutely free.—His love is unchangeable love: though you change every day, his love is unchangeable. Could any provocation turn away his love, it had ceased long since; but as he set his love upon you, notwithstanding all the faults you were, and he knew you would be guilty of, so it continues notwithstanding all.—His love is a distinguishing love; why should he have fixed on you, and passed by millions from whom you differ not by nature? Why hath he passed by your father, mother, brother, sister, and set his love upon you? And, O! will you not love him?—His love is a bountiful love; with his love he gives himself, his Christ, his Spirit, his grace, his glory, and all. See how the psalmist extols this love, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, who pardons all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, &c. Who pardons all thine iniquities!” (Ps. 103:1). O it is no small thing to forgive or to pardon three or four sins, but it is yet more to pardon three or four thousand sins: Who can conceive of that love! but to forgive many millions of faults, O what love is here! And so he deals with these whom he loves; “He multiplies to pardon;” yea, more, “he heals all your diseases.” O poor signer, have you not many plagues, many diseases, yea, more than you are aware of? If you know the plagues of your own heart, you will be crying out, O the plague of my mind, the plague of my will, the plague of my affections! O my atheism, unbelief, hardness, blindness, &c. O what innumerable evils compass me about, say you! O what horrible evils! yea, why do I call them evils, they are so many devils within me; yea, but for as many as they are, He heals all thy diseases; and for as grievous as they are, He supplies all your wants: such also is his bountiful love, “My God shall supply all your wants.” Are you not made up of wants? Do you not want light, life, love, faith, repentance, joy, assurance, peace, communion with God? Yea, but sometimes even on earth he supplies all wants, so as to make you say, I have enough. O does not this bountiful love, call for love?
(4.) Consider the channel in which this love runs: Christ is the means of the communication of the love of God; you have the love of God the Father, in the Son, by the Holy Ghost: Christ is the channel. Love in the Father is like the honey‑flower it must be in the comb, before it be for our use: Christ must extract and prepare this Honey for us. And, O how sweet is that love, that runs through such a glorious channel!
In a word, consider the excellency of the grace of love. Love to God is the fulfilling of the law; all that it requires is love; love is the great qualification of the saints above; the more love you have, the more like heaven you will be; and the more love, the more meetness for heaven: heaven would be a burden, and a weariness to you without love; if you had not love, you would throw yourself out of heaven into hell. If you have love, you will find it makes every duty pleasant; the obedience of love is sweet obedience. Yea, love will make all your crosses to be comforts; where there is little or no love, the cross is insupportable: the man cries, O a bitter cross! O the gall and wormwood! yea, but love would be like the tree cast into the waters of Marah, to make them become sweet. If you have much love it will make you say of affliction, O this is the cup that my kind Father hath put in my hand, and shall I not drink it? Welcome whatever he sends.
O love the Lord, ye his saints, and manifest your love by your obedience: will you render him hatred for love? O let his love to you warm your heart with love to him; and in order thereto,
1. O do not doubt of or question his love to you; beware of renouncing that which engages you to love him; it is the devil’s great aim to have you mistrusting God’s love, that so you may not love God again.
2. Attend all his love‑visits, and thankfully receive them; think not little of his ordinary visits, when in any measure he manifests his love through the lattices of ordinances; despise not the day of small things; and especially, O make much of his extraordinary love‑visits, when he mounts you up at any time into the chariot paved with love!
3. Take heed of abusing
his love: beware of spotting your garments with the flesh, after God has spread
his skirt over you. To sin against love is a dreadfully aggravated sin. It was a
sad blot upon Solomon, that his heart was turned from the Lord, “After that the
Lord God of
4. Beware of confidence in the flesh, and expecting that your love should influence God to do you good: the love of Christ must constrain you; think not that your duties and obedience should constrain him: O beware of inverting the gospel at this rate, and turning it up‑side down! If his love excite you to love and obedience, then your love and obedience does not excite him to love you. We might fear every day, that the heart of God would be turned to hate us, if our hopes of abiding in his favor were built upon our best love and obedience.
I would send away the haters of God with a word of terror. Know that if you cannot be persuaded to the love of God, if his love does not break you in time, his vengeance will break you to eternity: The enemies of the Lord shall be like the fat of rams, they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.” If you love not Christ, know what the apostle says, “If a man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema.” I will tell you what is sad; the day is coming wherein you shall say to the rocks and mountains, fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? You will be forever under the fiery mountain of divine vengeance. I will tell you what is yet sadder, and you will think strange, what can that be; in short it is sad, that before this day eight days, all that I am saying will be forgotten; yea, before the morrow at this time, the impression of all will be gone.
I would send away the lovers of Christ, the lovers of God, with a word of comfort. You love God, and God loves you, and God’s love to you is ground of comfort—Comfort in what you have; what you have in possession, you have it with a blessing; what you have in expectation in the promise, is in love; and therefore the promise is free, because of God’s love in it; the promise is firm, because of his love in it.—Comfort in what you want; since you have God’s love, you shall not want. Comfort in what you fear; you need fear no evil.—Comfort in what you do; all your services will be accepted; all your sins pardoned, though he should take vengeance on your inventions.—Comfort in what you suffer; you shall be sustained and supported; and though you may suffer the loss of gifts, goods, liberty, life, yet you cannot lose God, Christ, the Spirit, grace, heaven, or God’s everlasting love.—O go away with the comfortable sense of his distinguishing love!
In a word, Are you lovers of God? O go away rejoicing in it, that he first loved you: he is not behind hand with you; “He loved you before you loved him.” You were elected by the grace of God from eternity; you were redeemed by the blood of Christ, you are certainly effectually called; “For they that love him, are the called according to his purpose;” and the day comes, when you shall enjoy the object of your love in a full manner. If you be true lovers of Christ, I certify you, the time is coming, when you shall see Christ as he is, and be forever with the Lord, and enjoy him for evermore; and love without decay, and love without wearing shall be your everlasting exercise: you shall rejoice in an immediate enjoyment of him. You were upon his heart from eternity; you are upon his heart this day in heaven: for you his eternal Son came to the world; for you he lived, for you he died; your love to Christ is a reflex of his and his Father’s love to you; and there is not a true lover of Christ here, but hath as good ground to say as ever Paul had, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” Your love to him is an infallible pledge of his ancient love to you, a pledge of his present love to you, and a pledge of the future enjoyment of him. O let your heart, and life, and tongue, and all that is within you, and about you, vent love to him, and say, “We love him, because he first loved us!”