|« Prev||Sermon XI. Preached November 1, 1676.||Next »|
WE have endeavoured from these words to evince to yon the indispensable obligation there is upon us to the continued exercise of love to God, notwithstanding that we can not see him. This hath been doctrinally discoursed of, and also insisted upon by way of use, and particular application of that doctrine; but before we pass from it, it will be requisite to add somewhat further of a casuistical import.
It is very plain, that though there are not many sincere lovers of God, in this world; yet there are but few, who pretend not to be so. They are apt to please themselves with the conceit that they love God, and so take the matter for granted, though there be nothing of any such affection in their hearts at all. Others there are, who are apt to suspect that they do not love him in sincerity, and are too forward to conclude, that they have none of this divine affection, because they do not perceive it to work towards God, as their love does towards other objects. Finally, there are others again, who are very prone to censure those that speak of more passionate workings of affection to God, as mere hypocrites for this pretension. For since they experience nothing of such workings 106on their own hearts, they think it impossible there should be any such thing at all in the world. There are therefore three sorts of persons that our present discourse must have reference unto.
I. Such ignorant and careless souls as do, at random and without ever considering the matter, pronounce concerning themselves, that they are lovers of God; though if the matter be strictly looked into, they have no such thing as a motion of love in their heart to God at all.
II. Those that are prone to suspect, and conclude themselves to have no love to God at all, because they do not find this affection to work with that fervour and constancy, that they think it should, and which they perceive on other occasions.
HI. Such as are very apt to suspect, and accuse others of hypocrisy or folly, who seem to express the most passionate and fervent love to God, and think that such an affection towards him cannot have place in a human breast. What therefore is pretended to be of a spiritual and holy kind, must be resolved, they imagine, wholly into enthusiasm; or be attributed to the power of fancy, or imagination; or to the temper, and disposition of the bodily humours, and the various structure and fabric even of the inferior parts of the body itself. To each of these sorts, reference must be had in what is now to be discoursed upon at this time.
I. As to those who confidently give out themselves to be lovers of God, though they never felt any motion of love to him at all in their hearts, such things as these it would be very fit for them to consider.
1. That it is a very rash and unreasonable, as well as dangerous presumption, for them to conclude there is that in them which they have never perceived at all. For what might not one imagine, or fancy upon such a pretence? Supposing it possible, must I believe every thing to be true which is barely possible to be true? How many absurd things should I then believe! For there are many things that possibly may be, which yet it would be a very great absurdity to believe are in reality. It is a known rule, that of things that appear not, nor exist, the same esteem is to be had. If then it no way appears, or however appears not to me, that I am a lover of God; with what confidence can I pretend to it, or say that I am so?
2. It is to be considered that it is a most natural thing to men to be very indulgent to themselves, and to think that of themselves, which none would think or imagine but themselves. 107It is natural to every wicked man to “flatter himself in his own eyes, until his wickedness be found out to be hateful.” Ps. xxxvi. 2. Thus says the Psalmist, “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart,” that is, suggests to me, “that there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Ps. xxxvi. 1 And truly this does as effectually speak or declare, that he hath not the love of God in him; yet at the same time he flatters himself, as it there follows, in his own eyes, till the matter comes to be plainly observable to every eye. Hence it may be very well understood, how it comes to pass that men are so apt to judge themselves any thing, which it would be horrid for them not to be thought to be, only from the kindness they have to themselves. For how horrid is it for any man to admit himself to be no lover of God! Therefore he must needs think himself such, or affirm that as true, which it were a horrid thing to confess and avow to be false. And so, upon the matter, their love to God depends upon, and runs into nothing else, but a partial and fond love to themselves.
3. They should consider how obvious the mistake is, to take a conviction of conscience in this case for an affection of the heart. That is, because they are convinced that it is a very reasonable and fit thing to love God, therefore they conclude, that they do love him. But how most irrational is the conclusion! They may as well conclude their approbation of any thing else, to be the possession of the thing itself. For instance, that they are rich, because they approve of riches; or that they are in very good health, because they approve of a sound habit of body. It is plain that this is all which the most can say, as to the bottom of their pretence. They have nothing at all in them, like the love of God, but only this conviction of conscience, that it is fit he should be loved. Of this there is a necessary and unavoidable approbation imposed upon their judgment, from the evidence of the thing itself. And as all men are convinced, that the obligation is indispensable, therefore they are willing to take it for granted, that they have the love of God in them.
4. It follows, as another thing to be considered, that if the love of God in itself be really a distinct thing, and different from such a conviction, then their love to him is reduced to nothing: for it is really nothing, distinguished from such a conviction, or apprehension in their own minds. And under a notion of its being an affection of a finer kind and nature than to be obvious to common observation, they have refined it quite away, even into a mere nothing. For doth not every 108 man’s own sense tell him, that the love of tins or that thing, is quite another thing than a mental approbation of it? Or may not I be convinced in my judgment of the excellencies of one, to whom I have yet a settled aversion in my heart? How many cannot endure such persons, of whom upon conviction they cannot say they are not excellent men? And certainly it will put every sober considerer of this state of the case upon quite new thoughts, when we shall find he is not able to tell, what the thing Is, that he calls love to God, if it must be distinguished from the mere conviction of the reasonableness of it.
5. It is also to be considered, that since love to God, if it he any where, is to be discerned and felt, and must be a ruling principle; it is then a most absurd imagination, that such a principle should be in men, of which they have no perception. For is it not absurd, that a principle, which is to have the conduct of a man’s life, and so very great power in and over him in his whole course, should yet be neither discernible, nor felt? Indeed there are many thoughts and motions that stir in our minds, of which we take very little notice; nor can we in a little time say positively, whether we have such a thought or no. But that a principle, which runs through the universal course of a man’s life, and which of all things should most frequently come under his notice, should yet be neither felt nor perceived by him, is the most unimaginable of all things we can conceive of. Therefore those who have so hastily pronounced themselves to be lovers of God, and yet never felt any thing by which this love is to be discerned, are besought to think again, to allow the cause a rehearing, to take it into new consideration, and not run away with a groundless conceit that they are what it so much concerns them actually to be, while they are only so in their own fancies and imaginations.
II. I now come to the next sort, namely, those who are apt to judge themselves wholly destitute of sincere love to God, because they do not find those passionate motions of it towards him, as they do towards many inferior objects. And there are sundry considerations, which will be very requisite to be weighed in this ease too. As,
1 That certainly the actual exercise of love towards God may be often intermitted, when an habitual propension of heart towards him doth remain. The soul may frequently be put beside the direct acts, and exercise of this duty; and yet that virtue and principle, which hath touched their hearts, and by gracious vouchsafement is seated there, may still habitually 109incline them the same way. As the needle touched with the load-stone, is frequently diverted from its direct tendency towards the north; for being moved it shakes and quivers, and hath its various vibrations this way and that, yet there is a virtue in it that will bring and reduce it to the right point again. Therefore it is not this, or that act of love towards God, that gives the denomination; but the habitual propension, and bent of the heart. A man then is to be esteemed a lover of God, according as his heart stands habitually propense to him. But if the denomination depend upon this, or the other act; then a man would cease to be a lover of God, as often as he loveth, or thinketh of any one else, or is diverted from it by this or that though never so necessary an occasion. And again,
2. It is very necessary, that we consider the act and the passion of love as very distinguishable, or different things. The act of love in a reasonable intelligent creature, is nothing else but the complacential motion of the will towards this or that object, that is apprehended amiable, or worthy to be loved. The passion of love is the impression made by an object, upon the animal and vital spirits of the brain and heart, which, being sensible, are reflected upon, and by many are taken notice of (through a great mistake) as if the very notion and being of love was placed there. Whereas the whole entire nature of divine love is separable from that passion, and may be without it; otherwise if passion were of the essence of love, it were altogether impossible, that the separate soul should be capable of loving God, or any thing else. This is a mere accident to our love, and a result that depends upon our present union with the body; which body is essentially necessary, neither to our soul, nor to our love, for both may be without it. And I add,
3. That those acts which are performed, as I may call it, in the upper region of the soul, and which are more peculiar to its intellectual nature, are as truly discernible, as the passions are which rebound upon, and affect the body. The acts of the mind, and of the will, are no more imperceptible than the passions; and it is as possible for me to be able to discern and feel the former, as the latter. Cannot I as well tell that I think such a thought, if I do think it; that I intend and purpose such a thing, if I do really entertain in my heart such a resolution, as that I feel the motions that affect my outward man? If therefore a person with a practical judgment esteems the blessed God to be his highest and best good, and accordingly chooses him as such, and settles this resolution in 110 his own soul, saying, “This God shall be my God, my best and supreme Good, here will I seek my felicity, and take up my rest, and to him will I be an entirely devoted one for ever;” in this person certainly lies the substance and essence of love. And is not this perceptible? are not such acts as these capable of being reflected on, and taken notice of, if men would but more frequently turn their eyes inward, and habituate themselves to converse with themselves? But I further add,
4. That most certain it is, that during our abode in the body, the affections of the soul have more intimately an influence upon it. Such is the close and mysterious union between these two natures of flesh and spirit; that the influences between the one and the other are reciprocal. And therefore it is that the very temper or complexion of our souls doth so naturally, some way or other, represent itself in the outward man, as that it is very difficult, almost impossible, to hide and conceal what are the sentiments of our spirits upon certain occasions. Whence it hath grown into a maxim, vultus est index animi: that the face is the. character of the mind. Heu, quam difficile est crimen non prodere vultu! How hard is it for a man not to betray guilt in his countenance, if he has the sense of it in his own mind and heart! And therefore we should consider with ourselves, how our affections work towards God; even according to the usual way, wherein human affections are wont to shew and discover themselves. For I add,
5. That even spiritual, holy affections, such as respect the invisible God, and other invisible objects, do frequently so work in those pious souls in whom they are, as to make very great and deep impressions upon the body, and are accompanied with such passionate expressions, as are discernible, even to the inferior senses which belong to the animal nature. Let pas sages of Scripture to this purpose be looked into. How was the Psalmist affected and wrought upon by one affection towards God, when he tells us, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.” Ps. cxix. 120. There is a proportion between fear and love, in this case. As for love, the same devout Psalmist says, “My soul thirsteth for thee, O God! yea my flesh longeth for thee.” Ps. lxiii. 1 And again, “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Ps. lxxxiv. 2. Now these are not to be understood as mere rhetorical strains; for indeed they are not so, but do plainly carry this signification with them, that though the flesh be more immediately incapable of desire, of thirsting, and longing after God, whereof the soul alone is primarily capable, yet, mediately, 111the flesh partakes thereof. That is, the heart and soul did so much long after God, that the flesh was affected and bore the impression of that vehement desire, which was in the soul, as in its original and proper scat. We are therefore to consider, that even the more passionate workings of love towards God are very agreeable to that kind of affection, which in respect to the object, and principle of it, is spiritual and divine. And therefore,
6. It must further be added, that if persons be very apt to be passionately affected in other kinds, and towards other objects, but do always find themselves dull, and insensible of such motions towards God and invisible things, they have a great deal of reason to suspect themselves to be under a very bad distemper. Indeed, when persons are equally, and alike, unapt to feel such passionate resentments in their hearts towards any kind of objects, the matter is quite otherwise. But if they can, ordinarily say, “I feel my love to work towards the creature, a relation, or other amiable objects in this and that passionate manner; but I can feel no love working towards God,” they are far from being in a good condition They have, at least, a good deal of reason to suspect, that a distemper prevails upon them. Their love languisheth, and needs re-enforcement; and they ought not to content themselves to have the matter so, as if it were a case to be approved of, and that needed no redress. But yet again,
7. We must consider, that tempers are very carefully to be distinguished. The temper of some men’s minds is more composed, according as the bodily temper is more fixed, and their natural spirits are less volatile. Hence some are of a more even deportment to every object, even to the observation of others, and seldom are seen to be exalted, or depressed, whatever occurences happen to them in the course of their lives. They are not often seen, it may be, either to weep or laugh, to be either remarkably sad or cheerful. And grace, or this holy affection wherever it is in its subject, is somewhat conform to the natural temper of the person; as water poured into a vessel, resembleth the form of that vessel. If the vessel be round, then it resembles a round figure; if triangular, then it resembles a triangular figure. So I say grace and holy affections, where they are, resemble their subject, and receive in some sense a likeness and conformity to it, so as not to change the natural temper of the mind. Indeed the great business of the grace of God is to influence men as to morals, and not as to naturals. Therefore it were an unreasonable thing for any one to make himself a measure to all other persons, 112 how much soever they differ in temper from him. Or that any one should make another such a standard to himself, that however it be with him as to his natural temper, he must be just such as others are; which is equally to aim at a thing both unnecessary and impossible. Further,
8. We must warily distinguish between the exercise of love upon extraordinary, and sudden occasions, and such as are common and less surprising. As you know one may converse daily among the nearest relatives, and never feel any discernible pang of affection working towards them, as one docs to an object that suddenly appears. This proceeds from frequency and familiarity with them; when possibly the very same person would be in a transport upon the sudden and unexpected sight of the face of a friend, whom he had not seen for many years before. Now this is not inconsiderable as to our present case. It may be thus with many persons, who do not feel such a passionate pang of love towards persons, they daily converse with, as they do towards others, at the sight of whom they are surprised: yet notwithstanding this their love may be far dearer, and habitually much more strong to those relations whom they daily converse with, as occasions when administered abundantly shew; that is, they would do more for them, and be more deeply concerned if they saw them in distress, pain, and anguish. They would with much more regret endure separation from them, or take their deaths much more impatiently; which things shew their affections to be habitually much stronger, though upon sudden occasions, or in a certain juncture, they may work much more observably. And thus it may possibly be with some persons, who walk more evenly in their spirits before God. They have it may be fewer transports than others, who are of such uneven spirits, that the sight of God is often a new thing to them. They have him, less frequently out of sight, and are daily more conversant with him, and therefore are not subject to such violent emotions of mind. And if we compare these together, certainly we can never think, that there is a greater excellency in that temper which subjects a man, now and then, to higher transports of spiritual and divine affection, than in that temper of spirit, which is more steadily determined to a continual course of walking with God, in whom there is also an habitual complacence.
Lastly, This is further to be considered, that if at any time one would try the sincerity of one’s heart towards God, it is much more clearly to be evinced by the influence this hath on a man’s life, than by the passionate or sensible impressions 113made upon the body. I say, we have a far surer evidence of our love to God, from the influence it has to govern and manage the course of our lives, than from all the passionate emotions, and resentments we may feel in the inferior parts of the outward man. Suppose such raptures, and transports, and ecstatical motions, as are very strange, and not without their delectation and pleasure: alas! these signify but little towards the evincing of true sincere love to God, in comparison of a stable course of living under his government, as persons who are beyond all things loath to offend and displease him. If you seek an evidence of the truth of your love to God, take this; “If ye love me keep my commandments.” John xiv. 15. And again, “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” 1 John v. 3. Though we must take heed here of thinking, as was formerly said, that the external effect is sufficient without the principle; or that a course of obedience, in outward acts, to the rules set before us, will do the business, though there be nothing of the principle of the love of God in us. But take these in connexion, the principle with the effect, and they are a great deal more pungent demonstrations of love, than mere transports of extraordinary affection, now and then, are. Agreeably to which our Lord says, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and manifest myself unto him.” John xiv. 21. And again, as it afterwards follows, “If any man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him,” ver. 23.
So that we should take heed of putting too much upon the mere matter of passionate love in this case; unless, as we said before, it be manifestly discernable, that we can be passionately affected to any other kind of objects, while we find a stupidity, and dulness upon us, with respect to those, which are spiritual and divine. Therefore lay the great stress always here: “What doth the love, I pretend to, signify as to the conduct of my life? Do I live as a lover of God? as if it were an ungrateful matter to me, above all things, to displease him? as that I study, by all means possible, to maintain an intercourse of union, and communion between him and me? Is it such a love as makes his honour dear to me, so that I am above all things concerned not to disgrace the name which I bear, or be a reproach to him to whom I profess a relation? Is there such a principle in me as makes distance from God a wearisome thing? And would I fain be nearer to him daily, 114 more acquainted with him, more conformed to him, and changed into his divine image and likeness?” If this is the influence that love to God hath upon our lives, it is the evidence, it is the thing, if any thing can be so, that must prove and demonstrate to ourselves the sincerity of our love.
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