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SERMON X X X V.
GOD LOVES THOSE THAT LOVE HIM.
I LOVE them that love me.
- PROVERBS, viii. 17.
This is the language of divine wisdom, speaking throughout this chapter. It is not, however, very easy to determine whether divine wisdom is here to be taken in a figurative, or literal sense.
Some suppose that Solomon uses the term wisdom here, and in other parts of this book, to denote true religion, or that wisdom which is from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Some suppose that the wisdom speaking in the text, is Jesus Christ, who is called the Wisdom of God. But some are more inclined to think that wisdom is here personified, and denotes God himself, who is often represented by one of his essential attributes, as the Almighty, Holy One, &c. These several expositions of wisdom very nearly coincide, so that we cannot deviate from truth, by adopting either of them, though we may not exactly hit the precise meaning of the sacred writer. But I choose to consider God as speaking in the text, and saying, " I love them that love me.” The plain and obvious import of this declaration is,
That God loves none but such as first love him.
I. Show what kind of love God exercises towards them who love him.
II. Consider what is implied in men's loving God.
I. I am to show what kind of love God bears towards them who love him.
There is the love of benevolence, and the love of complacence. These two kinds of love are of the same nature, but distinguished by the objects upon which they terminate. The love of benevolence terminates upon percipient being, and extends to all sensitive natures, whether rational or irrational, whether they have a good, or bad, or no moral character. God desires and regards the good of all his creatures, from the highest angel to the lowest insect. His benevolence is bounded by nothing but an incapacity to enjoy happiness and suffer pain. He is good to the evil and to the unthankful; yea, he is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. Every creature has a share in his benevolent affections and his benev. olent exertions, in exact proportion to his worth and importance in the scale of being. He so loved the whole wicked world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. His love of benevolence extends to sinners, as well as to saints; to the worst, as well as to the best of mankind. But his love of complacence is wholly confined to moral beings, who are possessed of moral excellence. Nothing but virtue, or goodness, or real holiness is the object of his complacence. He loves holiness in himself, and wherever he finds it in any of his creatures. He sees it in all those who love him, and therefore he loves them, not only with benevolence, but with complacence. When he says in the text, “I love them that love me,” he means to declare that he feels that complacency towards those who love him, which he does not feel towards those who hate him. He loves those who hate him, with the love of benevolence, but not with the love of complacence. It is, therefore, the peculiar love of complacence, which God bears to them, and to them only that love him.
II. Let us consider what is implied in men's loving God.
1. This implies soine true knowledge of his moral character. There is reason to fear that many who live under the light of the gospel, and believe the existence of God, yet have no just conceptions of his nature and moral attributes. Though they have some right apprehensions of his self existence, independence, almighty power, and all his natural perfections, yet they are ready to imagine that he is altogether such an one as themselves, in his views and feelings. But this is a great and dangerous mistake.
God is love. He formed all his purposes from eternity, under the influence of pure, disinterested benev. olence, and is immutably determined to govern all events, and to dispose of all his creatures, so as to promote the highest holiness and happiness of them that love him. It is impossible to exercise true love to God, without some just conceptions of his perfect benevolence, which comprises all his holiness, justice, mercy, and every other moral excellence. It is true, men may
form and love a false character of God; but in that case, it is not the true God they love, but an object infinitely different. It is so far from being virtuous to love a false character of God, that it is highly criminal. Multitudes loved Christ, when he was here upon earth, while they were ignorant of his true character; but he never approved of their love; nay, he absolutely condemned it, as selfish and sinful. If men love a false character of God, their love is as really criminal as their hatred. The reason is, such love and hatred proceed from precisely the same source; that is, selfishness. The love of the Israelites at the Red Sea, was as really criminal as their murmurs and complaints in the wilderness. They loved God at first, because they thought he loved them; and afterwards they murmured and complained, because they thought he did not love them, but intended to destroy them. Hence it appears that there can be no true love to God, but what is founded on the true knowledge of God, and exercised towards his true character. But though true love to God implies a true knowledge of his character, yet a true knowledge of his character does not imply a true love to him; because men may hate his true, as well as his false character. Christ says to the Jews, “ Ye have both seen, and hated both me and my
Father.” This leads me to observe,
2. That true love to God implies esteem, as well as knowledge. True love cannot exist without esteem. may, indeed, love another without esteem; but that love can have no virtue in it. Esteem always arises from a conviction of moral excellence in the person or being esteemed. All men have a moral discernment of moral objects. Sinners are capable of discerning moral excellence in holiness; and when they discern it, they are constrained, in spite of their hearts, to esteem it. Job was a perfect and upright man; and accordingly we are told that the eye that saw him, and the ear that heard him, blessed him; that is, he commanded the universal esteem of both saints and sinners. So, when men have a true knowledge of God, they are constrained to esteem him, as the greatest and best of beings. Sinners cannot contemplate the infinite greatness and goodness of God, without discerning his infinite worthiness to be loved. Such a sense of his infinite worthiness is necessarily implied in loving him supremely; for supreme love must be founded on supreme esteem. Moses loved God supremely, and his supreme affection was founded upon his supreme esteem of the divine character.
This he expresses in his song of praise, upon the overthrow of Pharaoh.
" Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glo
One person rious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!” Men must have that esteem of God which arises from a sensible conviction of his supreme worthiness, before they can love him with a sincere and supreme affection. But since they may have a true knowledge and high esteem of God, without loving him sincerely, it is necessary to add,
3. That their loving God truly, implies a supreme complacence in his moral character. True love to God essentially consists in being pleased that he is what he is. In the exercise of true love to any object, there is a pleasure taken in the object itself. Men may have a true knowledge of the divine character, and a real esteem of it, while they see nothing in it which gives them pleasure, but perfect pain. This pain is owing to their hatred of that divine excellence, which they feel they ought to love. But when they truly love God, they take pleasure in every part of his moral character. They love his holiness, justice and sovereignty, as well as his goodness, mercy and grace. David's love to God was a complacence in his moral beauty and excellence. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord.” Jeremiah expressed the same satisfaction in God, when he said, “ The Lord is my portion, saith my soul.” The supreme moral excellence of the divine character is the primary object of the love of complacence. The mere natural perfections of the Deity, aside from his moral, cannot be the object of complacential love, but the reverse, the object of terror and aversion.
- It is the pure benevolence of God, which spreads a moral beauty over all his natural perfections, and renders them pleasing and lovely to every pious heart. Men's loving God with all the heart, with all the mind, and with all the strength, always implies a complacence in his moral character, without regard to any personal interest in his favor. It is not a mercenary, or selfish affection, but pure and disinterested. It is feeling towards God, just as he feels towards them that love him. It is giving him the supreme affection of the heart, from a clear knowledge and full conviction of his infinite moral excellence and glory
We are now to inquire, III. Why God loves only such as first love him. He says, “I love them that love me;" which plainly supposes that he has not the same affection towards those of an opposite character. It appears from the whole current of scripture, that God takes no complacence in unrenewed sinners, who are entirely destitute of true love to his moral perfections. The apostle says, “ The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Our Saviour declares, “ He that believeth not is condemned already,” and “the wrath of God abideth on him.” We read, “ Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law, to do them.” And God hiinself expresses his feelings towards his enemies, in the most pointed language, in the thirty-second of Deuteronomy, “ If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me." The Bible is full of threatenings against sinners, which clearly express divine displeasure, and not divine love. It is true, God feels and expresses benevolence towards all mankind; but this is consistent with the highest displeasure against those that hate him. Nor will his displeasure cease, until they cease to be his enemies, and become his friends. But here some may be ready to ask, Why does he not love them, before they first love him?
The direct answer to this question is, that before they first love him, they are not lovely. Their hearts are full of evil, and entirely opposed to all that is good. They are wholly under the dominion of selfishness, which is total enmity to all holiness. In them, that is, in their hearts, there dwelleth no good thing. They have not one moral quality, which is truly virtuous and amiable. The corruption of their hearts defiles all their natural powers and faculties, and renders them really odious and detestable. Hence says the apostle, “ Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving, is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” As there is nothing amiable in the natural perfections of God, aside from his holiness, so there is nothing amiable in the intellectual powers of men, aside from their benevolent and holy affections. While they have not the love of God in them, all iheir natural faculties are governed and corrupted, by an evil heart of unbelief. Hence it is morally impossible for God to love them, before they love him. As he clearly sees their corrupt hearts, he cannot but abhor their moral deformity. He is of purer eyes than to behold sin with complacence. He must cease to be perfectly holy, before he can exercise the love of complacence towards those who heartily oppose his own infinite purity and moral excellence. There is nothing that men can say or do, before they love God, which can render them lovely in his sight. But there is something in God, which renders him lovely and glorious, before he loves sinners; and therefore they can love him, before he loves them. There is a previous ground and reason for their loving him first; but there is no such previous ground and reason for his loving them first. The love of complacence towards sinners would be criminal; therefore it is as morally impossible for God to love them, be