EVIDENCES OF THE WANT OF LOVE TO GOD.
" But I know you, that you have not the love of God in you."—John, v. 42.
Nothing seems to be a more natural duty for a creature —nothing is more essential to religion—nothing more necessary as a principle of obedience, or a qualification for everlasting happiness, than the love of God; and it is universally confessed to be so.
Should we consider only the excellency of the divine Being, and the numerous and endearing obligations of all reasonable creatures to him, we should naturally think that the love of God must be universal among mankind; and not one heart can be destitute of that sacred, filial passion. But, alas! if we regard the evidence of Scripture or observation, we must conclude the contrary. The love of God is a rare thing among his own offspring in our degenerate world. Here, in my text, a company of Jews, highly privileged above all nations then upon earth, and making large professions of regard to God, are charged with the want of his love; charged by one that thoroughly knew them, and could not be deceived. " I know you, that you have not the love of God in you."
But, blessed be God, his love is not entirely extinct and lost even on our guilty globe. There are some hearts that feel the sacred flame, even among the degenerate sons of Adam.
These two sorts of persons widely differ in their inward temper, and God, who knows their hearts, makes a proper distinction between them. But in this world they are mixed—mixed in families, and in public assemblies; and sometimes the eyes of their fellow-mortals can discern but little difference; and they very often mistake their own true character, and rank themselves in that class to which they do not belong. While they continue in this mistake, the one cannot possess the pleasure either of enjoyment or hope; and the other cannot receive those alarms of danger which alone can rouse them out of their ruinous security, nor earnestly use means for the implantation of the sacred principle of divine love in their souls. To remove this mistake is therefore a necessary and benevolent attempt; benevolent not only to the former sort, but even to those who are unwilling to submit to the search, and who shut their eyes against the light of conviction.
The subject now before us is this: Since it is evident that some, under the profession of religion, are destitute of the love of God; and since it is of the utmost importance that we should know our true character in this respect, let us inquire what are those marks whereby we may know whether the love of God dwells in us or not. Let us follow this inquiry with impartiality and self-application, and receive the conviction which may result from it, whether for or against us.
Kow it is evident that the love of God does not dwell in you if the native enmity of your hearts against him has not been subdued; if your thoughts and affections do not fix upon him with peculiar endearment, above all other things; if you do not give him and his interests the preference of all things that may come in competition with him ; if you do not labor for conformity to him; if you do not converse with him in his ordinances, and if you do not make it the great business of your lives to please him by keeping his commandments.
First, The love of God is not in you, if the native enmity of your hearts against him has not been subdued. This will appear evident to every one that believes the Scripture account of human nature, in its present degenerate state. By nature we are "children of wrath;" and certainly the children of wrath cannot be the lovers of God, while such. " That which is born of the flesh, is flesh," and they savor of the flesh, or, as we render it, " the carnal mind is enmity against God." And hence it is, that " they that are in the flesh cannot please God." St. Paul gives this character of the Colossians, in their natural state; and there is no reason to confine it to them: that they " were some time alienated and enemies in their minds by wicked works." In short, it is evident from the uniform tenor of the gospel, that it is a dispensation for reconciling enemies and disaffected rebels to God.
The authority of Scripture must be sufficient evidence to us, who call ourselves Christians. But this is not all the evidence we have in this case. This is a sensible matter of fact and experience. For I appeal to all of you that have the least self-acquaintance, whether you are not conscious that your temper ever since you can remember, and consequently your natural temper, has habitually been indisposed and disaffected, or, which is the same, lukewarm and indifferent, towards the blessed God; whether you have had the same delight in him and his service as in many other things; whether your earliest affections fixed upon him with all the reverence and endearment of a filial heart. You cannot but know the answer to such inquiries will be against you, and convince you that you are by nature enemies to the God that made you, however much you have flattered yourselves to the contrary.
Now, it is most evident, that since you are by nature enemies to God, your natural enmity to him must be subdued ; or, in the language of the New Testament, you must be reconciled to him before you can be lovers of him. And have you ever felt such a change of temper ? I will not say that every one who has experienced this is assured that it is a real sufficient change, and that he is now a sincere lover of God; but this I will say, and this is obvious to common sense, that every one who has experienced this, is assured that he has felt a great change of some kind or other, and that his temper towards God is not the same now as it once was. This, therefore, may be a decisive evidence to you. If divine grace has never changed your temper towards God, but you continue still the same, you may be sure the love of God is not in you. And if this change has been wrought, you have felt it. It was preceded by a glaring conviction of your enmity, and the utmost horror and detestation of yourselves upon the account of it. It was attended with affecting views of the attractive excellences of God, and of your obligations to him; and with upon you, whatever be the consequence; and you will cheerfully resign all your other interests, however dear, when they clash with his.
I beg you would examine yourselves by this text; for here lies the dangerous delusion of multitudes. Multitudes find it easy to flatter themselves that they love God above all creatures, while, in the mean time, they will hardly part with any thing for his sake that their own imaginary interest recommends to them. But this is made the decisive test by Christ himself. " If any man come unto me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." By hating these dear relatives, and even life itself, Jesus does not mean positive hatred; for in a subordinate degree it is our duty to love them; but he means, that every sincere disciple of his, must act as if he hated all these, when they come in competition with his infinitely dearer Lord and Saviour; that is, he must part with them all, as we do with things that are hateful to us. This was, in fact, the effect of this love in St. Paul. " What things were gain to me, those," says he, " I counted loss for Christ; yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have actually suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ."
Although this severe trial should never come in your way, yet from your conduct in lesser trials, you may judge how you would behave in greater. Therefore, inquire, when the pleasures of sin and your duty to God interfere, which do you part with ? When the will of God and your own will clash, which do you obey? When the pleasing of God and the pleasing of men come in competition, which do you choose? When you must deny yourself or deny your Saviour, which do you submit to ? What is your habitual conduct in such trying circumstances ? Do you in such cases give to God and his interests the preference in your practice ? If not, your pretended love is reprobated, and appears to be counterfeit. •
Fourthly, The love of God is not in you, if you do not labor for conformity to him.
Conformity to him is at once the duty and the peculiar character of every sincere lover of God. " Be ye holy, as I am holy," is a duty repeatedly enjoined; and all the heirs of glory are characterized as being " conformed to the image of God's dear Son." If we love him, nothing will satisfy us till we awake in his likeness. Now, my brethren, does your love stand this test ? Have you been renewed in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness after the image ofhim that created you ? And is it the honest endeavor of your life to be holy in all manner of conversation, holy as God is holy ? Since your conformity to him consists in holiness, let me beg you to inquire again, Do
?rou delight in holiness ? Is it the great business of your ife to improve in it ? And are your deficiencies the burden of your spirits and matter of daily lamentation and repentance concerning yourselves, that this is not your habitual character, and, consequently, that the love of God is not in you ?
Fifthly, You have not the love of God in you if you do not delight to converse with him in his ordinances.
I need not tell you that friends are fond of interviews and delight in each others' company. Now God has been so condescending as to represent his ordinances as so many places of interviews for his people, where they may meet with him, or, in the Scripture phrase, draw near to him, appear before him, and carry on a spiritual intercourse with him. Hence it is that they delight in his ordinances; that they love to pray, to hear, to meditate, to commemorate the death of Christ, and to draw near to the throne of grace in all the ways in which it is accessible. These appear to them not only duties but privileges—exalted and delightful privileges, which sweeten their pilgrimage through this wilderness and sometimes transforms it into a paradise. Now will you, my brethren, stand this test? Have you found it good for you to draw near to God in these institutions ? Or are you not indisposed and disaffected to them ? Do not some of you generally neglect them ? or is not your attendance upon them an insipid, spiritless formality ? Have not some .of you prayerless closets, prayerless families ? And if you attend upon public worship once a week, is it not rather that you may observe an old custom, that you may see and be seen, or that you may transact some temporal business, than that you may converse with God in his ordinances ? In short, is it not evident, that devotion is not your delight, and, consequently, not your daily practice
Sixthly, The love of God is not in you, unless you make it the great business of your lives to please him by keeping his commandments. It is natural to us to seek to please those we love, and to obey them with pleasure if they be invested with authority to command us. If you love God you will habitually keep his commandments, and that with pleasure and delight. But if you can habitually indulge yourselves in willful disobedience in any one instance, or if you yield obedience through constraint, it is demonstration against you that you are destitute of his love. This is as plain as any thing in the whole Bible. " If ye love me," says Christ himself, "keep my commandments." " If any man love me, he will keep my words; he that loveth me not, keepeth not my sayings." " Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I command you." " This is the love of God," says St. John, " that ye keep his commandments," and " his commandments are not grievous." Keeping his commandments is not grievous when love is the principle. You see, my brethren, that obedience, cheerful, unconstrained obedience, is the grand test of your love to God. There is more stress laid upon this in the Word of God, than, perhaps, upon any other, and therefore you should regard it the more. Now recollect, is there not at least some favorite sin which you willfully and knowingly indulge yourselves in ? And are there not some self-denying, mortifying duties which you dare to omit ? And yet you pretend that you love God! You pretend that you love him, though your love is directly opposite to this grand test which himself has appointed to try it. You may have your excuses and evasions; you may plead the goodness of your hearts, even when your practice is bad; you may plead the strength of temptation, the frailty of your nature, and a thousand other things; but plead what you will, this is an eternal truth, that if you habitually and willfully live in disobedience to the commandments of God you are entirely destitute of his love.
And now, upon a review of the whole, what do you think of yourselves? Does the love of God dwell in you, or does it not ? that is, do those characters of the want of love belong to you, or do they not ? If they do, it is all absurdity and delusion for you to flatter yourselves that you love him; for it is all one as if you should say, " Lord, I love thee, though my native enmity against thee still remains unsubdued. I love thee above all, though my thoughts and affections are scattered among other things, and never fixed upon thee. I love thee above all, though I prefer a thousand things to thee and thy interest." And will God, do you think, accept that as supreme love to him which will not pass current for common friendship among mortals ? Is he capable of being imposed upon by such inconsistent pretensions? No: "be not deceived; God is not mocked." Draw the peremptory conclusion, without any hesitation, that the love of God does not dwell in you.
And if this be the case, what do you think of it ? "What a soul have you within you, that cannot love God—that cannot love supreme excellence, and all-perfect beauty— that cannot love the origin and author of all the excellence and beauty that you see scattered among the works of his hands—that cannot love your prime benefactor and gracious Redeemer—that cannot love him "in whom you live, and move, and have your being; in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways," and who alone is the proper happiness for your immortal spirit—that can love a parent, a child, a friend, with all their infirmities about them, but cannot love God—that can love the world —that can love sensual and even guilty enjoyments, pleasures, riches, and honors, and yet cannot love God !—that can love every thing that is lovely but God, who is infinitely lovely—that can love wisdom, justice, veracity, goodness, clemency in creatures, were they are attended with many imperfections, and yet cannot love God, where they all centre and shine in the highest perfection!
If love be the fulfilling of the whole law, then the want of love must be the breach of the whole law. You break it all at one blow, and your life is but one continued, uniform, uninterrupted series of sinning. The want of love takes away all spirit and life from all your religious services, and diffuses a malignity through all you do. Without the love of God you may pray, you may receive the sacrament, you may perform the outward part of every duty of religion; you may be just and charitable, and do no man any harm; you may be sober and temperate; but without the love of God you cannot do one action that is truly and formally good and acceptable to God.
Now I appeal to yourselves, is not this a very dangerous situation ? While you are destitute of the love of God can you flatter yourselves that you are fit for heaven ? What! fit for the region of love! fit to converse with a holy God, and live for ever in his presence ? Fit to spend an eternity in his service ! Can you be fit for these things while you have no Jove to him ? Certainly not; you must perceive yourselves fit for destruction, and fit for nothing else.
And now, what must you do, when this shocking conviction has forced itself upon you ? Must you now give up all hopes ? Must you now despair of ever having the love of God kindled in your hearts? Yes; you may, you must give up all hopes; you must despair, if you go on, as you have hitherto done, thoughtless, careless, and presumptuous in sin, and in the neglect of the means which God has appointed to implant and cherish this divine, heaven-born principle in your souls. This is the direct course towards remediless, everlasting despair. But if you now admit the conviction of your miserable condition; if you endeavor immediately to break off from sin, and from every thing that tends to harden you in it; if you turn your minds to serious meditation; if you prostrate yourselves as humble, earnest petitioners before God, and continue instant in prayer; if you use every other means of grace ordained for this purpose; I say, if you take this course, there is hope—there is hope! There is as much hope for you as there once was for any one of that glorious company of saints, now in heaven, while they were as destitute of the love of God as any of you. And will you not take these pains to save your own souls from death ? Many have taken more, to save the souls of others, and you have taken a great deal to obtain the transitory, perishing enjoyments of this life. And will you take no pains for your own immortal interests ? O let me prevail, let even a stranger prevail upon you, to lay out your endeavors upon this grand concern. I must insist upon it, and can take no denial. This is not the peculiarity of a party I am urging upon you. Is it Presbyterianism, or new light, that tells you you cannot be saved without the love of God ? Churchmen and dissenters, Protestants and Papists, nay, Jews, Mahometans, and pagans agree in this, that the love of God is essential to all true religion; and if you entertain hopes of heaven without it, the common sense of mankind is against you. Therefore, O seek to have the love of God shed abroad in your hearts.