And he answering said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength…
I. THE NATURE OF THIS LOVE. We may describe love in general 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 endeavour 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 endeavour to advance it in all good, and preserve it from all evil. The chief properties of the love, we owe to God 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.
2. Another property of this love is an earnest desire of obtaining a propriety in God; of possessing Him, in a manner, and enjoying Him; of approaching Him, and being, so far as may be, united to Him.
3. Coherent with this is a third property of this love, that is, a great complacence, satisfaction, and delight in the enjoyment of God in the sense of having such a propriety in Him; in the partaking those emanations of favour and beneficence from Him; and, consequently, in the instruments conveying, in the means conducing to such enjoyment, for joy and content are the natural fruits of obtaining what we love, what we much value, what we earnestly desire.
4. The feeling much displeasure and regret in being deprived of such enjoyment in the absence or distance, as it were, of God from us; the loss or lessening of His favour; the subtraction of His gracious influences from us: for surely answerable to the love we bear unto anything will be our grief for the want or loss thereof.
5. Another property of this love is, to bear the highest goodwill toward God; so as to wish heartily and effectually, according to our power, to procure all good to Him, and to delight in it; so as to endeavour to prevent and to remove all evil, if I may so speak, that may befal Him, and to be heartily displeased therewith.
II. To the effecting of which purposes I shall next propound some MEANS conducible; some in way of removing obstacles, others by immediately promoting the duty. Of the first kind are these ensuing:
1. The destroying of all loves opposite to the love of God; extinguishing all affection to things odious and offensive to God; mortifying all corrupt and perverse, all unrighteous and unholy desires.
2. If we would obtain this excellent grace, we must restrain our affections toward all other things, however in their nature innocent and indifferent. B. The freeing of our hearts also from immoderate affection to ourselves; for this is a very strong bar against the entrance, as of all other charity, so especially of this; for as the love of an external object doth thrust, as it were, our soul outwards towards it; so the love of ourselves detains it within, or draws it inwards; and consequently these inclinations crossing each other cannot both have effect, but one will subdue and destroy the other. These are the chief obstacles, the removing of which conduces to the begetting and increasing the love of God in us. A soul so cleansed from love to bad and filthy things, so emptied of affection to vain and unprofitable things, so opened and dilated by excluding all conceit of, all confidence in itself, is a vessel proper for the Divine love to be infused into: into so large and pure a vacuity (as finer substances are apt to flow of themselves into spaces void of grosser matter) that free and moveable spirit of Divine grace will be ready to succeed, and therein to disperse itself. As all other things in nature, the clogs being removed which binder them, do presently tend with all their force to the place of their rest and well-being; so would, it seems, our souls, being loosed from baser affections obstructing them, willingly incline toward God, the natural centre, as it were, and bosom of their affection; would resume, as speaks, that natural filter (that intrinsic spring, or incentive of love) which all creatures have toward their Creator; especially, if to these we add those positive instruments, which are more immediately and directly subservient to the production of this love.They are these:
1. Attentive consideration of the Divine perfections, with endeavour to obtain a right and clear apprehension of them.
2. The consideration of God's works and actions; His works and actions of nature, of Providence, of grace.
3. Serious regard and reflection on the peculiar benefits by the Divine goodness vouchsafed to ourselves.
4. An earnest resolution and endeavour to perform God's commandments, although on inferior considerations of reason; on hope, fear, desire to obtain the benefits of obedience, to shun the mischiefs from sin.
5. Assiduous prayer to Almighty God that He in mercy would please to bestow His love on us, and by His grace to work it in us. These are the means which my meditation did suggest as conducing to the production and growth of this most excellent grace in our souls.
III. I should lastly propound some inducements apt to stir us up to the endeavour of procuring it, and to the exercise thereof, by representing to your consideration the blessed fruits and benefits (both by way of natural causality and of reward) accruing from it; as also the woful consequences and mischiefs springing from the want thereof.
(I. Barrow, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.