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Of Charity, or the Love of God.
LOVE is the greatest thing that God can give us; for himself is love; and it is the greatest thing, we can give to God; for it will also give ourselves, and carry with it all, that is ours. The apostle calls it the band of perfection; it is the old, and it is the new, and it is the great commandment, and it is all the commandments; for it is the fulfilling of the law. It does the work of all other graces, without any instrument but its own immediate virtue. For as the love to sin makes a man sin against all his own reason, and all the discourses of wisdom, and all the advices of his friends, and without temptation, and without opportunity: so does the love of God; it makes a man chaste without the laborious arts of fasting and exterior disciplines, temperate in the midst of feasts, and is active enough to choose it without any intermedial appetites, and reaches at glory through the very heart of grace, without any other arms but those of love. It is a grace, that loves God for himself; and our neighbours, for God. The consideration of God's goodness and bounty, the experience of those profitable and excellent emanations from him, may be, and, most commonly, are, the first motive of our love: but, when we are once entered, and have tasted the goodness of God, we love the spring for its own excellency, passing from passion to reason, from thanking to adoring, from sense to spirit, from considering ourselves to an union with God: and this is the image and little representation of heaven; it is beatitude in picture, or rather the infancy and beginnings of glory.
We need no incentives by way of special enumeration to move us to the love of God; for we cannot love any thing for any reason real or imaginary, but that excellence is infinitely more eminent in God. There can but two things. create love, perfection and usefulness: to which answer on our part, 1. Admiration; and, 2. Desire; and both these are centred in love. For the entertainment of the first, there is in God an infinite nature, immensity or vastness without extension or limit, immutability, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, holiness, dominion, providence, bounty, mercy,
justice, perfection in himself, and the end, to which all things and all actions must be directed, and will, at last, arrive. The consideration of which may be heightened, if we consider our distance from all these glories; our smallness and limited nature, our nothing, our inconstancy, our age like a span, our weakness and ignorance, our poverty, our inadvertency and inconsideration, our disabilities and disaffections to do good, our harsh natures and unmerciful inclinations, our universal iniquity, and our necessities and dependencies, not only on God originally and essentially, but even our need of the meanest of God's creatures, and our being obnoxious to the weakest and most contemptible. But, for the entertainment of the second, we may consider, that in him is a torrent of pleasure for the voluptuous; he is the fountain of honour for the ambitious; an inexhaustible treasure for the covetous. Our vices are in love with fantastic pleasures and images of perfection, which are truly and really to be found no where but in God. And therefore our virtues have such proper objects, that it is but reasonable they should all turn into love: for certain it is, that this love will turn all into virtue. For in the scrutinies for righteousness and judgment, when it is inquired, whether such a person be a good man or no, the meaning is not, What does he believe? or what does he hope? but what he loves".
The Acts of Love to God are,
1. Love does all things, which may please the beloved person; it performs all his commandments: and this is one of the greatest instances and arguments of our love, that God requires of us, this is love, "That we keep his commandments." Love is obedient.
2. It does all the intimations and secret significations of his pleasure, whom we love; and this is an argument of a great degree of it. The first instance is, it makes the love accepted: but this gives a greatness and singularity to it. The first is the least, and less than it cannot do our duty : but, without this second, we cannot come to perfection. Great love is also pliant and inquisitive in the instances of its expression.
St. Aug. 1. ii. Confes. c. 6.
3. Love gives away all things, that so he may advance the interest of the beloved person: it relieves all, that he would have relieved, and spends itself in such real significations, as it is enabled withal. He never loved God, that will quit any thing of his religion, to save his money. Love is always liberal and communicative.
4. It suffers all things, that are imposed by its beloved, or that can happen for his sake; or that intervene in his service, cheerfully, sweetly, willingly; expecting, that God should turn them into good, and instruments of felicity. "Charity hopeth all things, endureth all things"." Love is patient and content with any thing, so it be together with its beloved.
5. Love is also impatient of any thing, that may displease the beloved person; hating all sin as the enemy of its friend; for love contracts all the same relations, and marries the same friendships and the same hatreds; and all affection to a sin is perfectly inconsistent with the love of God. Love is not divided between God and God's enemy: we must love God with all our heart; that is, give him a whole and undivided affection, having love for nothing else, but such things which he allows, and which he commands, or loves himself.
6. Love endeavours for ever to be present, to converse with, to enjoy, to be united with its object; loves to be talking of him, reciting his praises, telling his stories, repeating his words, imitating his gestures, transcribing his copy in every thing; and every degree of union and every degree of likeness is a degree of love; and it can endure any thing but the displeasure and the absence of its beloved. For we are not to use God and religion, as men use perfumes, with which they are delighted, when they have them, but can very well be without them. True charity is restless, till it enjoys God in such instances, in which it wants him: it is like hunger and thirst, it must be fed or it cannot be answered: and nothing can supply the presence, or make recompence for the absence of God, or of the effects of his favour, and the light of his countenance.
7. True love in all accidents looks upon the beloved person, and observes his countenance, and how he disapproves, and accordingly, looks sad or cheerful. He, P Amoris ut morsum qui verè senserit.
• 1 Cor. xiii.
that loves God, is not displeased at those accidents, which God chooses; nor murmurs at those changes, which he makes in his family; nor envies at those gifts he bestows; but chooses, as he likes, and is ruled by his judgment, and is perfectly of his persuasion; loving to learn, where God is the teacher, and being content to be ignorant or silent, where he is not pleased to open himself.
8. Love is curious of little things, of circumstances and measures, and little accidents; not allowing to itself any infirmity, which it strives not to master, aiming at what it cannot yet reach, desiring to be of an angelical purity, and of a perfect innocence, and a seraphical fervour, and fears every image of offence; is as much afflicted at an idle word, as some at an act of adultery, and will not allow to itself so much anger, as will disturb a child, nor endure the impurity of a dream. And this is the curiosity and niceness of Divine love this is the fear of God, and is the daughter and production of love.
The Measures and Rules of Divine Love.
But because this passion is pure as the brightest and smoothest mirror, and, therefore, is apt to be sullied with every impurer breath, we must be careful, that our love to God be governed by these measures.
1. That our love to God be sweet, even, and full of tranquillity; having in it no violences or transportations, but going on in a course of holy actions and duties, which are proportionable to our condition and present state; not to satisfy all the desire, but all the probabilities and measures of our strength. A new beginner in religion hath passionate and violent desires; but they must not be the measure of his actions but he must consider his strength, his late sickness and state of death, the proper temptations of his condition, and stand at first upon his defence; not go to storm a strong fort, or attack a potent enemy, or do heroical actions and fitter for giants in religion. Indiscreet violences and untimely forwardness are the rocks of religion, against which tender spirits often suffer shipwreck.
• Plutarchus citans carmen de suo Apolline, adjicit ex Herodoto quasi de suo, De eo os meum continens esto.
2. Let our love be prudent and without illusion: that is, that it express itself in such instances, which God hath chosen, or which we choose ourselves by proportion to his rules and measures. Love turns into doating, when religion turns into superstition. No degree of love can be imprudent, but the expressions may: we cannot love God too much, but we may proclaim it in indecent manners.
3. Let our love be firm, constant, and inseparable; not coming and returning like the tide, but descending like a never-failing river, ever running into the ocean of Divine excellency, passing on in the channels of duty and a constant obedience, and never ceasing to be, what it is, till it comes to be, what it desires to be; still being a river, till it be turned into sea and vastness, even the immensity of a blessed eternity.
Although the consideration of the Divine excellences and mercies be infinitely sufficient to produce in us love to God (who is invisible, and yet not distant from us, but we feel him in his blessings, he dwells in our hearts by faith, we feed on him in the sacrament, and are made all one with him in the incarnation and glorifications of Jesus); yet, that we may the better enkindle and increase our love to God, the following advices are not useless.
Helps to increase our Love to God, by way of Exercise.
1. Cut off all earthly and sensual loves; for they pollute and unhallow the pure and spiritual love. Every degree of inordinate affection to the things of this world, and every act of love to a sin, is a perfect enemy to the love of God: and it is a great shame to take any part of our affection from the eternal God, to bestow it upon his creature in defiance of the Creator; or to give it to the devil, our open enemy, in disparagement of him, who is the fountain of all excellences and celestial amities.
2. Lay fetters and restraints upon the imaginative and fantastic part; because our fancy, being an imperfect and higher faculty, is usually pleased with the entertainment of shadows and gauds: and, because the things of the world fill it with such beauties and fantastic imagery, the fancy presents such objects, as are amiable to the affections and