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This is a charge that would well befit the lips of any servant of God before he leaves the world, and be well suited to the conduct of any people. If our hearts be right with God, all is right; if not, all is wrong.
In discoursing upon the subject, we shall offer a few remarks on the nature of love, and of love to God in particular; consider the importance of it in characterizing the whole of our religion; the danger of declining from it; and the means to be used in promoting it.
I. Let us offer a few remarks on THE NATURE of love, and of LOVE TO GOD IN PARTICUlar. That we may perceive the extent of the precept, it is necessary that we understand a few of the different ways in which love operates.
1. Observe then, in the first place, that love operates differently, according to the condition of its object. If directed to one that is miserable, it works in a way of pity and sympathy; if to one that is in necessity, it will impart to his relief; but if to one greatly our superior, (as to a kind and benevolent sovereign, for instance,) then it will operate in the way of honour, complacency, gratitude, and obedience. I need not say, that God is not subject to either misery or want, and, therefore, that our love to him cannot operate in the way of pity towards him, or by communicating to his necessities. The ways in which love to God operates, are those of honour, complacency, gratitude, and obedience.
2. Love operates differently, according to the condition of the subject of it. If no offence has existed between the parties, it is peace and amity; but, if otherwise, it will operate in the way of regret, repentance, and a desire of reconciliation. Man, in his original state, was admitted to commune with his Creator; and love, during his continuance in that state, operated in a way of grateful adoration. But, if a spark of love be kindled in the breast of a fallen creature, it will work in a way of sorrow for sin, and a desire to return to God, as the prodigal did to his father. Moreover, in an innocent creature, love to God would operate in a way of delight and praise; but in a fallen creature, under the preaching of the gospel, it will induce him to embrace the way of salvation by Jesus Christ. Hence, the want of faith in Christ is alleged
in proof of the want of love to God! I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you: I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not.
3. A complacency in the divine character still enters into the essence of love. There may be affections, where this is not; but there can be no true love to God. We may be greatly affected by an apprehension that our sins are forgiven us; and this, mere. ly from self-love: but such affections will not abide. Many who joined in singing praise to the Lord on their deliverance at the Red sea, soon forgot his works; for their hearts were not right with God. Genuine love to God has respect not merely to his benefits, but, to his name, nature, or character, as revealed in the scriptures. As he that hateth not sin as sin, has no real hatred to it; so he that loveth not God as God, has no real love to him. True love to God, for the gift of his Son and salvation through his death, does not merely respect the benefits we receive, but the holy, just, and honourable way in which those benefits are conferred. He that is affected only by the consideration of his own safety, regardless of the way in which it is obtained, cannot be said to love God. Whether God be just or unjust, is, to such a person, a matter of indifference, so that he justifies him. The Love of God will lead us to prize that way of salvation which, in making provision for our necessities, secures the divine glory.
H. Let us observe THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS PRINCIPLE AS CHARACTERIZing the whole of our RELIGION. Love is not so much a particular grace, as a property pertaining to all the graces. It is, to our graces, that which the holiness of God is to his moral attributes, pervading and characterizing the whole. Indeed, it is holiness itself: if the law be the standard of holiness, that which is the fulfilling of the law, which love is said to be, must comprehend the whole of it. Observe particularly,
1. It is the love of God which distinguishes true religion from all counterfeits, and from the effects of merely natural principles. It is this that distinguishes repentance from repentance, faith from faith, and fear from fear. Each of these graces has its counterfeit. Wherein consisted the difference between the repentance of Judas and that of Peter? The one was mere remorse of con
science; the other proceeded from love to him whom he had denied. Wherein consisted the difference between the belief of those rulers, who, because of the Pharisees, did not confess the Saviour, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, and that which was to the saving of the soul? The one was a conviction which forced itself upon them, while their hearts were averse from it; the other, was receiving the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And wherein consists the difference between the fear that has torment, and godly fear? Is it not, that the one is void of love, and the other is not so? Perfect love casteth out the former, but promoteth the latter.
So much as we have of the love of God, so much we have of true religion, and no more. The love that we bear to our fellowchristians, to the law, to the gospel, and even to Christ himself, is the love of God. We see in our brethren the image of God, and love it; in the law of God, a glorious transcript of his mind, and love it; in the gospel, a more glorious transcript of his mind, and love it more; and in the person and work of Christ, the very image of the invisible God, and our hearts are united to him. In loving each of these objects, we love God.
2. It is the love of God that keeps every thing in a state of moral order. Under its influence, every thing will be done in subserviency to his glory, and every thing taken well at his hand. God be loved first, he will be sought first. We shall not think of excusing ourselves in the neglect of our duty, by alleging, that we could not find time for it: we commonly find time for things on which our hearts are fixed. It is by the love of God that all our actions are directed to his glory. Unbelievers cannot understand how this is. Whether they eat or drink, or whatsoever they do, it is merely for their own gratification, and they cannot conceive of any other end to be answered. Yet it is easy to perceive, how men can make every thing subservient to that which their hearts are set upon, whether it be their interest, or the gratification of their desires. Love to a fellow-creature will render every thing we do subservient to the object. All the labours and journeys of a loving head of a family are directed to their comfort; and all the busy cares of an affectionate wife, to the honour and happiness
of her husband. If, then, God be the supreme object of our love, whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, we shall do all to his glory.
It is thus that the common concerns of life are converted into religion, and that we shall serve the Lord even in our worldly avocations: Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. It is in abusing the world, by giving it that place in our hearts which belongs to God, that it retards us in our progress to heaven. If, instead of this, we could use it, it would be useful to us even for another life, furnishing us with matter for daily prayer and praise, and thus assisting us in our progress.
If we love God, we shall take every thing well at his hand, and so be reconciled to all his dispensations toward us, whether they be good or evil. We can bear almost any thing from one whom we love; especially when we know that it is accompanied with wisdom, and directed by goodness. When, in the day of Israel's calamity, their enemies asked, Where is now their God? it was sufficient to answer, Our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. It was love that dictated those memorable sayings of Job, during the early part of his trials, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!— Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil? It was this that reconciled David, when driven from his throne by the rebellion of his own son: Here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him. And, when cursed by an enemy, viewing it as the Lord's band stretched out against him, he submitted: The Lord hath said unto him, Curse David!
3. It is the love of God that is the great preservative from error. If, indeed, the truth of God were a matter of mere speculation, and we might take for granted the sincerity and impartiality of our inquiries, error would then be innocent, and the love of God would be no more of a preservative from it than it is from a mistake in reckoning a sum in arithmetic. But, if divine truth be of a practical nature, and be so clearly revealed, that no unprejudiced mind can materially misunderstand, and, still less, disbelieve it, error is not innocent, and the greatest preservative from falling into it is the love of God. Such is manifestly the import of the
following passages: If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.-Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.-If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.-We are of God: he that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. If it be objected, that 'Good men err; that to ascribe their errors to prejudice, and the want of love to God, is uncandid;' we answer, No good man is free from prejudice, nor does he love God as he ought. To ascribe the errors of others to the same causes to which we ascribe our own, supposing us to be in error, cannot be uncandid. If we loved God as we ought, there would be no prejudice hanging about our minds, and we should imbibe the truth, as angels imbibe it, desiring above all things to look into it. And if we loved him more than we do, we should be more secure than we are from the seducing influence of error. Hence it is, that the anointing of the Holy Spirit is represented as teaching us of all things, and causing us to abide in the truth. Hence also, those who have apostatized from the truth are described as not having cordially believed it, but as taking pleasure in unrighteousness.
4. It is the love of God which is the grand spring of evangelical obedience. Respect to ourselves, and regard to our present interests, will produce a correctness of conduct, sufficient to excite the respect of those around us; but this is not religion. There is no true religion without the love of God; and if, as has been already stated, the love of the law, of the gospel, of our fellow-creatures and fellow-christians, and even of Christ himself, be only the love of God ramified; it must follow, that, without this, we shall not be able to exercise the others, but be merely lovers of our own selves. If we take heed to this, we shall have but little else to take heed to; as every duty will become our delight, and be cheerfully discharged as a matter of course. Hence, we see the force of the wise man's precept, Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Look well to the fountain, or the streams