Our Love to God
Arthur Pink, 1951
That there is such a thing as a human creature exercising love to God is clear from Scripture, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God" (Rom 8:28). And they are identified in the remainder of that verse, "to those who are the called according to his purpose" — those who are effectually called from death unto life in consequence of God's eternal decree. So too we read of "the things which God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Divine love is always reciprocal. In due time, God sheds abroad His love in the hearts of those whom He has loved from everlasting — so that they in return love Him. As another has said, "When love has descended from Heaven to earth, it has finished half its course; but when it ascends from earth to Heaven again, then the circle is completed." Our love to Him is but a small stream that flows from and runs back to the ocean of God's love. This love is not of natural kindling, but from the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit. Then the understanding is made to perceive, the judgment to esteem, the will to choose, and the whole soul to delight in God. The renewed person now sees there to be nothing in Heaven or earth, to be desired in comparison with Him.
This is one of the essential characteristic features of all the regenerate. They differ considerably in gifts and attainments, but one thing they have in common — they are all lovers of God. Never has a single individual been born into the kingdom of God, which was destitute of affection for Him, "every one who loves is born of God" (1 John 4:7). Some are but "babes," weak in faith; some are "young men," strong in the Lord; others are "fathers," of long experience and spiritual maturity. But one and all love God. Once they were as their fellow sinners — at enmity with God; but now they bear Him good will. The spirit of adoption has taken captive their hearts, and they love God with a little child's fervent, adoring, confident affection. They love Him for His infinite perfections, His wisdom, grace, faithfulness, holiness. They love Him as He is revealed in Christ — the Image of the invisible God. They love Him for His merciful overtures to them through the Gospel. They love Him for what He has done for them, and for what He has promised yet to do. "We love him — because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Gratitude is not a base virtue, but a noble endowment, and supplies the most powerful of all spiritual motives unto a godly walk.
Love to God is a sure evidence of saving grace in the soul. As saving faith is a fruit of effectual calling, so also is affection for God — the two cannot be separated, for faith "works by love" (Gal 5:6). Nevertheless, no Christian, when in his right mind, will ever boast of his love. Rather will he be strongly inclined to doubt if he has any, and certainly he will be ashamed of the small degree of it. This writer truly is. As he thinks how feeble, how fickle, is his affection for God, and how little genuine obedience it produces — he is confounded. Yet, by grace, he can say with poor Peter, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you" (John 21:17) — though my conduct, through the weakness of the flesh, appeared to give the lie thereto — You perceive that the beating of my heart is toward You.
Since there is the recognition and realization in His people that they love God, because He first loved them; that His love was free and sovereign, of mere grace, unattracted by anything amiable in them — there will necessarily be a sense of utter unworthiness in their love to Him. And thus the Christian's love to God is a very lowly and humble affection.
Love is as needful for the spiritual life, as blood is for the natural life. In neither case can the one exist without the other. Yet, though all the regenerate have love to God, not all of them are equally aware of the fact, nor are all Christians sensible of it in the same way at all times. But a personal persuasion of our love to God is most desirable. Those things which the more deeply concern us, ought the more seriously to affect us. None should deny its existence, simply because they are dissatisfied with the degree or intensity of their love.
God is indeed to be loved above everyone and everything else, and loved with all our being and strength — yet the best of His people sadly fail to render unto Him that which is His due. To find the heart going out more to a near relative, than to God; or to grieve more over some temporal loss, than for an offence against the Lord — must occasion great concern to a conscientious soul. Nevertheless, such an experience is not, of itself, a proof that we have no love to God, especially if devotedness to our family does not cause us to neglect Him.
Love to God is not to be determined by its degree. Some writers have insisted that nothing but unselfish love is worthy of the name — that God must be loved for what He is, and our neighbor as His creature. But there is a love of gratitude as well as of delight, which makes a thankful return unto Him for His great love in Christ. This is expressly stated in 1 John 4:19, "We love him — because he first loved us." Not only did God's love precede ours, being set upon us when we were entirely loveless — but it is the cause of ours. Not only as the divine power created it in us, but as the motive which we are conscious of in our love.
If our hearts had never been deeply affected by that transcendent love which moved God to give His own Son to die for such Hell-deserving wretches as we know ourselves to be — would we have ever had any affection unto Him? No, indeed. Nor is there anything "legalistic" in this, if David hesitated not to leave it on record, "I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications" (Psalm 96:1). I need not be ashamed to own that I love Him because He heard my cry for mercy and washed my sins away by the blood of the Lamb.
Love to God is not to be measured so much by its sensible stirrings or lively acts — as by its solid esteem and settled constitution. Some Christians are naturally more emotional and lively, and therefore more easily stirred. Nor is love to God to be gauged by our feelings — but determined by our purpose of heart and sincere endeavors to please God. Partly because the act may be more lively, where the affection is less firm in the heart. The passions of suitors may be more ardent than the love of husbands — yet not so deeply rooted, nor do they so intimately affect the heart. Straw is soon enkindled, and its heat quickly spent — but coals burn longer and more constantly. And partly because the objects of sense do more affect and urge us in the present state. While the flesh remains in the believer, he will be more sensibly stirred by the things which agree with his carnal nature.
We very much doubt if any regenerated person ever loved God for His essential goodness, before he loved Him for His beneficial goodness. The first thing which consciously awakens our love to God is a sense of favors received from Him — because the Father gave His Son for me, because the Son shed His blood for me, because the Holy Spirit quickened me. Later, as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord — there comes the realization that He is to be loved for what He is in Himself.
Love to God consists in a well-pleasedness in having Him as the soul's all-sufficient portion, of a delight in Him, of satisfaction in Him. Sometimes it is expressed in longings after and yearnings for Him. "At night my soul longs for You. Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently!" (Isa 26:9). Sometimes it is declared in speaking well of Him to others (Psalm 34:1-3; Mal 3:16). Often it is breathed forth in prayer (Psalm 84:2), and in praise (Song 5:10). Occasionally it is revealed in exclamations of wonderment (1 John 3:1). It is manifested in sincere efforts to please Him, making His glory the purpose and end of our actions, and therefore in detestation of all sin. It appears at its best when, in a time of sore trial and temporal straitness, its possessor "rejoices in the LORD" (Hab 3:17-18).
Here are a few TESTS of true love to God:
1. Have you been convicted of and made to mourn over your natural enmity against God, that not only was your heart dead as a stone toward Him — but filled with antagonism to and disrelish of Him?
2. Do you love God for His holiness as well as His grace? Has it wrought in you a filial fear of displeasing Him, so that you jealously watch your heart lest it lead you away from Him and His ways (Heb 12:28)?
3. Does love to God regulate your life, influence your walk, and move you to obedience?
4. Is it weaning you from the creature, separating you from the world, delivering from the things opposed to sincere good love for God?
5. Do you love His truth? Some pretend to love all preachers and preaching alike — incapable of distinguishing error from truth.
6. Does it cause you to entertain good thoughts of God when His dispensations cross your will, moving you to place the best construction on the same and attributing them to His wisdom? For "love thinks no evil" (1 Corinthians 13:5)!
7. God is truly loved above all others, when no affection for the creature can draw us deliberately to sin against Him (Job 2:9-10).
8. God is truly loved, when we gladly incur and endure the displeasure and frowns of our fellows, rather than offend against Him (Luke 14:26).
9. God is truly loved, when we make it our principal concern to please Him, rather than gratify the flesh or promote our worldly interests.
10. God is truly loved when the heart is wounded and grieved at the dishonor done to Him all around us (Psalm 119:53).
If your love has waned and you long for it to be revived — do not doubt God's love for you (for that will further weaken it), but look again at Christ on the cross. The best food for our love — is to feed on His love.