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OF THE LOVE OF GOD.
MATTHEW, CHAP. XXII.-VERSE 37.
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.
THIS text is produced by our Saviour out of Moses's law in answer to a question, wherewith a learned pharisee thought to pose or puzzle him; the question was, Which was the great and first commandment in the law? a question which, it seems, had been examined, and determined among the doctors, in the schools of those days, (for in St. Luke, to the like question intimated by our Saviour, another lawyer readily yields the same answer, and is therefore commended by our Saviour, with a recte respondisti,' thou hast answered rightly;') so that had our Saviour answered otherwise, he had, we may suppose, been taxed of ignorance and unskilfulness, perhaps also of error and heterodoxy; to convict him of which seems to have been the design of this Jewish trier or tempter (for he is said to ask Teιρá2wv avròv, trying, or tempting him.) But our Saviour defeats his captious intent, by answering, not only according to truth and the reason of the thing, but agreeably to the doctrine then current, and as the lawyer himself out of his memory and learning would have resolved it: and no wonder, since common sense dictates that the law enjoining sincere and intire love toward God is necessarily the first and chief, or the most fundamental law of all religion; for that whosoever doth believe the being of God, according to the most common notion that name
bears, must needs discern himself obliged first and chiefly to perform those acts of mind and will toward him, which most true and earnest love do imply different expressions of love may be prescribed, peculiar grounds of love may be declared in several ways of religion; but in the general and main substance of the duty all will conspire, all will acknowlege readily, that it is love we chiefly owe to God; the duty which he may most justly require of us, and which will be most acceptable to him. It was then indeed the great commandment of the old (or rather of the young and less perfect) religion of the Jews, and it is no less of the more adult and improved religion which the Son of God did institute and teach the difference only is, that Christianity declares more fully how we should exercise it; and more highly engages us to observe it; requires more proper and more substantial expressions thereof; extends our obligation as to the matter, and intends it as to the degree thereof : for as it represents almighty God in his nature and in his doings more lovely than any other way of religion, either natural or instituted, hath done, or could do; so it proportionably raises our obligation to love him: it is, as St. Paul speaketh, τὸ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας, the last drift, or the supreme pitch of the evangelical profession and institution to love; to love God first, and then our neighbor out of a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned:' it is the bond, or knot of that perfection which the gospel enjoins us to aspire to it is the first and principal of those goodly fruits, which the Holy Spirit of Christ produceth in good Christians. It is therefore plainly with us also the great commandment and chief duty: chiefly great in its extent, in its worth, in its efficacy, and influence: most great it is, in that it doth (eminently at least, or virtually) contain all other laws and duties of piety; they being all as branches making up its body, or growing out of it as their root. St. Paul saith of the love toward our neighbor, that it is ʼnρwμa тov vóμov, a full performance of the laws' concerning him and that all commandments, åvarepaλaloõvrai, are recapitulated, or summed up in this one saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself:' and by like, or greater reason are all the duties of piety comprised in the love of God; which is the chief of those two hinges, on which,' as our
Saviour here subjoins, the whole law and the prophets do hang.' So great is this duty in extent: and it is no less in proper worth; both as it immediately respects the most excellent and most necessary performances of duty, (employing our highest faculties in their best operations,) and as it imparts virtue and value to all other acts of duty: for no sacrifice is acceptable, which is not kindled by this heavenly fire; no offering sweet and pure, which is not seasoned by this holy salt; no action is truly good or commendable, which is not conjoined with, or doth not proceed from the love of God; that is not performed with a design to please God, or, at least, with an opinion that we shall do so thereby. If a man perform any good work not out of love to God, but from any other principle, or for any other design, (to please himself or others, to get honor or gain thereby,) how can it be acceptable to God, to whom it hath not any due regard? And what action hath it for its principle, or its ingredient, becomes sanctified thereby, in great measure pleasing and acceptable to God; such is the worth and value thereof. It is also the great commandment for efficacy and influence, being naturally productive of obedience to all other commandments; especially of the most genuine and sincere obedience; no other principle being in force and activity comparable thereto; (fear may drive to a compliance with some, and hope may draw to an observance of others; but it is love, that with a kind of willing constraint and kindly violence carries on cheerfully, vigorously, and swiftly to the performance of all God's commandments: If any man loves me,' saith our Saviour, he will keep my word :' to keep his word is a natural and necessary result of love to him: This is the love of God,' saith St. John, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous;' it is the nature of that love to beget a free and delightful obedience :) such then is the subject of our discourse; even the sum, the soul, the spring of all our religion and duty. And because it is requisite, both for our direction how to do, and the examination of ourselves whether we do as we ought, that we should understand what we are so far obliged to; that we may be able to perform it, and that we be effectually disposed thereto, I shall use this method; I will first endeavor to explain the
nature of this love commanded us; then, to show some means of attaining it; lastly, to propound some inducements to the purchase and practice thereof.
I. For the first part; we may describe love in general (for it seems not so easy to define it exactly) to be an affection or inclination of the soul toward an object, proceeding from an apprehension and esteem of some excellency or some conveniency therein, (its beauty, worth, or usefulness,) producing thereon, if the object be absent or wanting, a proportionable desire, and consequently an endeavor to obtain such a propriety therein, such a possession thereof, such an approximation or union thereto; as the thing is capable of; also a regret and displeasure in the failing so to obtain it; or in the want, absence, and loss thereof; likewise begetting a complacence, satisfaction, and delight in its presence, possession, or enjoyment; which is moreover attended with a good-will thereto, suitable to its nature; that is, with a desire that it should arrive unto and continue in its best state; with a delight to perceive it so to thrive and flourish; with a displeasure to see it suffer or decay in any wise; with a consequent endeavor to advance it in all good, and preserve it from all evil. Which description containing the chief properties of love in common, do in some sort (not to insist on abstracted notions, or in examples remote from our purpose) all of them well agree to that love which we owe to God, according to the tenor of this law, and in the degree therein expressed; that is, in the best manner and highest degree; for even of this divine love the chief properties (prerequisite thereto, or intimately conjoined therewith, or naturally resulting from it) I conceive are these.
1. A right apprehension and firm persuasion concerning God, and consequently a high esteem of him as most excellent in himself and most beneficial to us: for such is the frame of our soul, that the perceptive part doth always go before the appetitive, that affection follows opinion, that no object otherwise moves our desire, than as represented by reason, or by fancy, good unto us: what effect will the goodliest beauty, or the sweetest harmony have on him, who wants sense to discern, or judgment to prize them? This is our natural way of acting; and according to it, that we may in due measure love God, he
must appear proportionably amiable, and desirable to us; we must entertain worthy thoughts of him, as full of all perfection in himself; as the fountain of all good; as the sole author of all that happiness we can hope for or receive: as he, in possession of whom we shall possess all things desirable; in effect and virtue, all riches, all honors, all pleasure, all good that we are capable of; and without whom we can enjoy no real good or true content: which esteem of him, how can it otherwise than beget affection toward him? If the faint resemblances, or the slender participations of such excellences (of that incomprehensible wisdom, that uncontrollable power, that unconfined bounty, that unblemished purity, which are united in him, and shine from him with a perfect lustre; if, I say, the very faint resemblances, and imperfect participations of these excellences) discerned in other things, are apt to raise our admiration, and allure our affection toward them; if the glimmering of some small inconsiderable benefit, the shadow of real profit discovered in these inferior empty things, is able so strongly to attract our eyes, and fix our hearts on them, why should not from a like, but so much greater cause, the like effect proceed? whence can it be that the apprehension of an object so infinitely lovely, so incomparably beneficial (if not passing cursorily through our fancy, but deeply impressed on our mind) should not proportionably affect and incline us toward him with all that desire, that delight, that good-will which are proper to love? If we think, as the psalmist did, that there is none in heaven or in earth comparable to God,' (comparable in essential perfection, comparable in beneficial influence,) why should we not be disposed also to say with him; Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none on earth that I desire besides thee.' Such a reverent esteem is the proper foundation on which true love is built, and which upholds it: whence, as the love of God doth commonly denote all the duties of religion; so doth fear (or reverence to him) likewise in Scripture style comprehend and express them all; it being the root from whence love doth sprout, and by which it is nourished; it being the beginning of that true wisdom by which we embrace and fasten our affection on the sovereign good. Hence we may observe that those devout persons, whose hearts were fullest of