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I am resolved, by the grace of God, to improve the affections God stirs up in others towards me, to the stirring up of their affections towards God.
IF the authority I have over others, then questionless the affection others have to me, is to be improved for God; and that because the affection they bear to me in a natural sense hath a kind of authority in me over them in a spiritual one. And this I gather from my own experience; for I find none to have a greater command over me, than they that manifest the greatest affections for me. 212Indeed, it is a truth generally agreed on, that a real and sincere esteem for any person is always attended with a fear of displeasing that person; and where there is fear in the subject, there will, doubtless, be authority in the object; because fear is the ground of authority, as love is, or ought to be, the ground of that fear. The greatest potentate, if not feared, will not be obeyed; if his subjects stand in no awe of him, he can never strike any awe upon them. Nor will that awe have its proper effects in curbing and restraining them from sin and disobedience, unless it proceeds from, and is joined with love.
T know the Scripture tells me, ‘There is no fear in love, but that perfect love casteth out fear.’206206 John, iv. 18. But that is to be understood of our love to God, not to men, and that a perfect love too, such as can only be exercised in heaven. There I know our love will be consummate, without mixture, as well as without defect; there will be a perfect expression of love on both sides, and so no fear of displeasure on either. But this is a happiness which is not to be expected here on earth; so long as we are clothed with flesh and blood, we shall, in one degree or other, be still under the influence of our passions and affections. And therefore as there is no person we can love upon earth, but who may sometimes see occasion to be displeased with us: so he will always, upon this account, be feared by us. This I look upon as the chief occasion of one man’s having so much power and influence over another.
But how comes this under the notion of a talent 213received from God, and so to be improved for him? Why, because it is he, and he alone, that kindles and blows up the sparks of pure love and affection in us, and that by the breathings of his own Spirit. It was the Lord that gave Joseph favour in the sight of the ‘keeper of the prison,’207207 Gen. xxxix. 21. And who brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the ‘prince of the eunuchs.’208208 Dan. i. 9. And so of all others in the world: for we are told elsewhere, that as ‘God fashioneth the hearts of men, so he turneth them which way soever he will.’ Insomuch that I can never see any express their love to me, but I must express my thankfulness to God for it; nor can I feel in myself any warmth of affection towards others, without considering it as a talent hid in my breast, which I am obliged in duty to improve for him by stirring up their affections unto him ‘whose affections himself hath stirred up towards me. And this will be the more easy to effect, if I take care in the first place, to express the zeal and sincerity of my own love to God, by making him the chief object of my esteem and adoration; and manifest my aversion to the sins they are guilty of, by representing them as most loathsome and abominable, as well as most dangerous and damnable. For, wherever there is a true and cordial affection to any person, it is apt to bias those that are under the influence of it, to choose the same objects for their love or aversion, that such a person does, that is, to love what he loves, and to hate what he hates. This, therefore, is the first thing to be done, to stir up the affections of others to love and serve God.214
Another way of my improving the affections of others to this end, is by setting them a good example; for commonly what a friend doth, be it good or bad, is pleasing to us, because we look not at the goodness of the thing that is done, but at the loveliness of the person that doth it. And if the vices of a friend seem amiable, how much more will his virtues shine? For this reason, therefore, whensoever I perceive any person to show a respect for, or affection to me, I shall always look upon it as an opportunity put into my hands to serve and glorify my great Creator, and shall look upon it as a call from heaven, as much as if I heard the Almighty say to me, I desire to have this person love me, and therefore have I made him to love thee: do thou but set before him an example of goodness and virtue, and his love to thy person shall induce and engage him to direct his actions according to it. This, therefore, is the rule that I fully resolve to guide myself by, with relation to those who are pleased to allow me a share in their esteem and affection, which I hope to improve to their advantage in the end; that as they love me, and I love them now, so we may all love God, and God love us to all eternity.215
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