At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. 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 will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a 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.
~ John 14:20-23
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
~ John 17:3
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
~ Colossians 1:13
Of the Peculiar and Distinct Communion Which the Saints Have with the Father, by John Owen. The following contains Part One, Chapter Three of his work, “Of Communion with God”.
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
— 1 John 1:3
Of the peculiar and distinct communion which the saints have with the Father
— Observations for the clearing of the whole premised — Our peculiar communion with the Father is in love — 1 John 4:7, 8; 2 Corinthians 13:14; John 16:26, 27; Romans 5:5; John 3: 16, 14:23; Titus 3:4, opened to this purpose — What is required of believers to hold communion with the Father in love — His love received by faith — Returns of love to him — God’s love to us and ours to him — Wherein they agree — Wherein they differ.
Having proved that there is such a distinct communion in respect of Father, Son, and Spirit, as whereof we speak, it remains that it be farther cleared up by an induction of instances, to manifest what (it is), and wherein the saints peculiarly hold this communion with the several persons respectively: which also I shall do, after the premising some observations, necessary to be previously considered, as was promised, for the clearing of what has been spoken. And they are these that follow: —
1. When I assign any thing as peculiar wherein we distinctly hold communion with any person, I do not exclude the other persons from communion with the soul in the very same thing. Only this, I say, principally, immediately, and by the way of eminency, we have, in such a thing, or in such a way, communion with some one person; and therein with the others secondarily, and by the way of consequence on that foundation; for the person, as the person, of any one of them, is not the prime object of divine worship, but as it is identified with the nature or essence of God. Now, the works that outwardly are of God (called “Trinitatis ad extra”), which are commonly said to be common and undivided, are either wholly so, and in all respects, as all works of common providence; or else, being common in respect of their acts, they are distinguished in respect of that principle, or next and immediate rise in the manner of operation: so creation is appropriated to the Father, redemption to the Son. In which sense we speak of these things.
2. There is a concurrence of the acting and operations of the whole Deity in that dispensation, wherein each person concurs to the work of our salvation, unto every act of our communion with each singular person. Look, by what act soever we hold communion with any person, there is an influence from every person to the putting forth of that act. As, suppose it to be the act of faith: — It is bestowed on us by the Father: “It is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8. It is the Father that revealeth the gospel, and Christ therein, Matthew 11:25. And it is purchased for us by the Son: “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, to believe on him,” Philippians 1:29. In him are we “blessed with spiritual blessings,” Ephesians 1:3. He bestows on us, and increaseth faith in us, Luke 17:5. And it is wrought in us by the Spirit; he administers that “exceeding greatness of his power,” which he exerciseth towards them who believe, “according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead,” Ephesians 1:19, 20; Romans 8:11.
3. When I assign any particular thing wherein we hold communion with any person, I do not do it exclusively unto other mediums of communion; but only by the way of inducing a special and eminent instance for the proof and manifestation of the former general assertion: otherwise there is no grace or duty wherein we have not communion with God in the way described. In every thing wherein we are made partakers of the divine nature, there is a communication and receiving between God and us; so near are we unto him in Christ.
4. By asserting this distinct communion, which merely respects that order in the dispensation of grace which God is pleased to hold out in the gospel, I intend not in the least to shut up all communion with God under these precincts (his ways being exceeding broad, containing a perfection whereof there is no end), nor to prejudice that holy fellowship we have with the whole Deity, in our walking before him in covenant-obedience; which also, God assisting, I shall handle hereafter.
These few observations being premised, I come now to declare what it is wherein peculiarly and eminently the saints have communion with the Father; and this is love, — free, undeserved, and eternal love. This the Father peculiarly fixes upon the saints; this they are immediately to eye in him, to receive of him, and to make such returns thereof as he is delighted withal. This is the great discovery of the gospel: for whereas the Father, as the fountain of the Deity, is not known any other way but as full of wrath, anger, and indignation against sin, nor can the sons of men have any other thoughts of him (Romans 1:18; Isaiah 33:13,14; Habakkuk 1:13; Psalm 5:4-6; Ephesians 2:3), — here he is now revealed peculiarly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the peculiar work of the gospel, Titus 3:4.
1. 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” That the name of God is here taken personally, and for the person of the Father, not essentially, is evident from verse 9, where he is distinguished from his only begotten Son whom he sends into the world. Now, saith he, “The Father is love;” that is, not only of an infinitely gracious, tender, compassionate, and loving nature, according as he has proclaimed himself, Exodus 34:6, 7, but also one that eminently and peculiarly dispenseth himself unto us in free love.” So the apostle sets it forth in the following verses: “This is love,” verse 9; — “This is that which I would have you take notice of in him, that he makes out love unto you, in ‘sending his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.’” So also, verse 10, “He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And that this is peculiarly to be eyed in him, the holy Ghost plainly declares, in making it antecedent to the sending of Christ, and all mercies and benefits whatever by him received. This love, I say, in itself, is antecedent to the purchase of Christ, although the whole fruit thereof be made out alone thereby, Ephesians 1:4-6.
2. So in that distribution made by the apostle in his solemn parting benediction, 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, THE LOVE OF GOD, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” Ascribing sundry things unto the distinct persons, it is love that he peculiarly assigns to the Father. And the fellowship of the Spirit is mentioned with the grace of Christ and the love of God, because it is by the Spirit alone that we have fellowship with Christ in grace, and with the Father in love, although we have also peculiar fellowship with him; as shall be declared.
3. John 16:26, 27, saith our Savior, “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you.” But how is this, that our Savior saith, “I say not that I will pray the Father for you,” when he saith plainly, chap. 14:16, “I will pray the Father for you?” The disciples, with all the gracious words, comfortable and faithful promises of their Master, with most heavenly discoveries of his heart unto them, were even fully convinced of his dear and tender affections towards them; as also of his continued care and kindness, that he would not forget them when bodily he was gone from them, as he was now upon his departure: but now all their thoughts are concerning the Father, how they should be accepted with him, what respect he had towards them. Saith our Savior, “Take no care of that, nay, impose not that upon me, of procuring the Father’s love for you; but know that this is his peculiar respect towards you, and which you are in him: ‘He himself loves you.’ It is true, indeed (and as I told you), that I will pray the Father to send you the Spirit, the Comforter, and with him all the gracious fruits of his love; but yet in the point of love itself, free love, eternal love, there is no need of any intercession for that: for eminently the Father himself loves you. Resolve of that, that you may hold communion with him in it, and be no more troubled about it. Yea, as your great trouble is about the Father’s love, so you can no way more trouble or burden him, than by your unkindness in not believing of it.” So it must needs be where sincere love is questioned.
4. The apostle teaches the same, Romans 5:5, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.” God, whose love this is, is plainly distinguished from the Holy Ghost, who sheds abroad that love of his; and, verse 8, he is also distinguished from the Son, for it is from that love of his that the Son is sent: and therefore it is the Father of whom the apostle here specially speaketh. And what is it that he ascribes to him? Even love; which also, verse 8, he commendeth to us, — sets it forth in such a signal and eminent expression, that we may take notice of it, and close with him in it. To carry this business to its height, there is not only most frequent peculiar mention of the love of God, where the Father is eminently intended, and of the love of the Father expressly, but he is also called “The God of love,” 2 Corinthians 13:11, and is said to be “love:” so that whoever will know him, 1 John 4:8, or dwell in him by fellowship or communion, verse 16, must do it as he is love.”
5. Nay, whereas there is a twofold divine love, beneplaciti and amicitiae, a love of good pleasure and destination, and a love of friendship and approbation, they are both peculiarly assigned to the Father in an eminent manner: —
(1.) John 3:16, “God so loved the world, that he gave,” etc.; that is, with the love of his purpose and good pleasure, his determinate will of doing good. This is distinctly ascribed to him, being laid down as the cause of sending his Son. So Romans 9:11, 12; Ephesians 1:4, 5; 2 These 2:13, 14; 1 John 4:8, 9.
(2.) John 14:23, there is mention of that other kind of love whereof we speak. “If a man love me,” saith Christ, “he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” The love of friendship and approbation is here eminently ascribed to him. Says Christ, “We will come,” even Father and Son, “to such a one, and dwell with him;” that is, by the Spirit: but yet he would have us take notice, that, in point of love, the Father has a peculiar prerogative: “My Father will love him.”
6. Yea, and as this love is peculiarly to be eyed in him, so it is to be looked on as the fountain of all following gracious dispensations. Christians walk oftentimes with exceedingly troubled hearts, concerning the thoughts of the Father towards them. They are well persuaded of the Lord Christ and his goodwill; the difficulty lies in what is their acceptance with the Father, — what is his heart towards them? “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,” John 14:8. Now, this ought to be so far away, that his love ought to be looked on as the fountain from whence all other sweetnesses flow.
Thus the apostle sets it out, Titus 3:4, “After that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared.” It is of the Father of whom he speaks; for, verse 6, he tells us that “he makes out unto us,” or “sheds that love upon us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Savior.” And this love he makes the hinge upon which the great alteration and translation of the saints does turn; for, saith he, verse 3, “We ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” All naught, all out of order, and vile. Whence, then, is our recovery? The whole rise of it is from this love of God, flowing out by the ways there described. For when the kindness and love of God appeared, — that is, in the fruits of it, — then did this alteration ensue. To secure us hereof, there is not any thing that has a loving and tender nature in the world, and does act suitably whereunto, which God has not compared himself unto. Separate all weakness and imperfection which is in them, yet great impressions of love must abide. He is as a father, a mother, a shepherd, a hen over chickens, and the like, Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 63:16; Matthew 6:6; Isaiah 66:13; Psalm 23:l; Isaiah 40:11; Matthew 23:37.
I shall not need to add any more proofs. This is that which is demonstrated: — There is love in the person of the Father peculiarly held out unto the saints, as wherein he will and does hold communion with them.
Now, to complete communion with the Father in love, two things are required of believers: — (1.) That they receive it of him. (2.) That they make suitable returns unto him.
(1.) That they do receive it. Communion consists in giving and receiving. Until the love of the Father be received, we have no communion with him therein. How, then, is this love of the Father to be received, so as to hold fellowship with him? I answer, By faith. The receiving of it is the believing of it. God has so fully, so eminently revealed his love, that it may be received by faith. “Ye believe in God,” John 14:l; that is, the Father. And what is to be believe in him? His love; for he is “love,” 1 John 4:8.
It is true, there is not an immediate acting of faith upon the Father, but by the Son. “He is the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father but by him,” John 14:6. He is the merciful high priest over the house of God, by whom we have access to the throne of grace: by him is our manuduction unto the Father; by him we believe in God, l Peter 1:21. But this is that I say, — When by and through Christ we have an access unto the Father, we then behold his glory also, and see his love that he peculiarly bears unto us, and act faith thereon. We are then, I say, to eye it, to believe it, to receive it, as in him; the issues and fruits thereof being made out unto us through Christ alone. Though there be no light for us but in the beams, yet we may by beams see the sun, which is the fountain of it. Though all our refreshment actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up unto the fountain. Jesus Christ, in respect of the love of the Father, is but the beam, the stream; wherein though actually all our light, our refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. Would believers exercise themselves herein, they would find it a matter of no small spiritual improvement in their walking with God.
This is that which is aimed at. Many dark and disturbing thoughts are apt to arise in this thing. Few can carry up their hearts and minds to this height by faith, as to rest their souls in the love of the Father; they live below it, in the troublesome region of hopes and fears, storms and clouds. A11 here is serene and quiet. But how to attain to this pitch they know not. This is the will of God, that he may always be eyed as benign, kind, tender, loving, and unchangeable therein; and that peculiarly as the Father, as the great fountain and spring of all gracious communications and fruits of love. This is that which Christ came to reveal, — God as a Father, John 1:18; that name which he declares to those who are given him out of the world, John 17:6. And this is that which he effectually leads us to by himself, as he is the only way of going to God as a Father, John 14:5, 6; that is, as love: and by doing so, gives us the rest which he promiseth; for the love of the Father is the only rest of the soul. It is true, as was said, we do not this formally in the first instant of believing. We believe in God through Christ, 1 Peter 1:21; faith seeks out rest for the soul. This is presented to it by Christ, the mediator, as the only procuring cause. Here it abides not, but by Christ it has an access to the Father, Ephesians 2:18, — into his love; finds out that he is love, as having a design, a purpose of love, a good pleasure towards us from eternity, — a delight, a complacency, a goodwill in Christ, — all cause of anger and aversation being taken away. The soul being thus, by faith through Christ, and by him, brought into the bosom of God, into a comfortable persuasion and spiritual perception and sense of his love, there reposes and rests itself. And this is the first thing the saints do, in their communion with the Father; of the due improvement whereof, more afterward.
(2.) For that suitable return which is required, this also (in a main part of it, beyond which I shall not now extend it) consisteth in love.
God loves, that he may be beloved. When he comes to command the return of his received love, to complete communion with him, he says, “My son, give me thine heart,” Proverbs 23:26, — thy affections, thy love. “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,” Luke 10:27; this is the return that he demandeth. When the soul sees God, in his dispensation of love, to be love, to be infinitely lovely and loving, rests upon and delights in him as such, then has it communion with him in love. This is love, that God loves us first, and then we love him again. I shall not now go forth into a description of divine love. Generally, love is an affection of union and nearness, with complacency therein. So long as the Father is looked on under any other apprehension, but only as acting love upon the soul, it breeds in the soul a dread and aversation. Hence the flying and hiding of sinners, in the Scriptures. But when he who is the Father is considered as a father, acting love on the soul, thine raises it to love again. This is, in faith, the ground of all acceptable obedience, Deuteronomy 5:10; Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 10:12, 11:1, 13, 13:3.
Thus is this whole business stated by the apostle, Ephesians 1:4, “According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” It begins in the love of God, and ends in our love to him. That is it which the eternal love of God aims at in us, and works us up unto. It is true, our universal obedience falls within the compass of our communion with God; but that is with him as God, our blessed sovereign, lawgiver, and rewarder: as he is the Father, our Father in Christ, as revealed unto us to be love, above and contrary to all the expectations of the natural man; so it is in love that we have this intercourse with him. Nor do I intend only that love which is as the life and form of all moral obedience; but a peculiar delight and acquiescing in the Father, revealed effectually as love unto the soul.
That this communion with the Father in love may be made the more clear and evident, I shall show two things: — (1.) Wherein this love of God unto us and our love to him do agree, as to some manner of analogy and likeness. (2.) Wherein they differ; which will farther discover the nature of each of them.
(1.) They agree in two things: —
1st. That they’ are each a love of rest and complacency.
(1st.) The love of God is so. Zephaniah 3:17, “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.” Both these things are here assigned unto God in his love, — REST and DELIGHT. The words are, “yacharish be’ahavato” — “He shall be silent because of his love.” To rest with contentment is expressed by being silent; that is, without repining, without complaint. This God does upon the account of his own love, so full, so every way complete and absolute, that it will not allow him to complain of any thing in them whom he loves, but he is silent on the account thereof Or, “Rest in his love;” that is, he will not remove it, — he will not seek farther for another object. It shall make its abode upon the soul where it is once fixed, for ever. And COMPLACENCY or DELIGHT: “He rejoiceth with singing;” as one that is fully satisfied in that object he has fixed his love on. Here are two words used to express the delight and joy that God has in his love, — “yasis” and “yagil”. The first denotes the inward affection of the mind, joy of heart; and to set out the intenseness hereof, it is said he shall do it “besimchah”, — in gladness, or with joy. To have joy of heart in gladness, is the highest expression of delight in love. The latter word denotes not the inward affection, but the outwards demonstration of it: “agalliain” seems to be formed of it. It is to exult in outward demonstration of internal delight and joy; — “Tripudiare,” to leap, as men overcome with some joyful surprisal. And therefore God is said to do this “berinnah” — with a joyful sound, or singing. To rejoice with gladness of heart, to exult with singing and praise, argues the greatest delight and complacency possible. When he would express the contrary of this love, he says “ouk eudokese”, — “he was not well pleased,” 1 Corinthians 10:5; he fixed not his delight nor rest on them. And, “If any man draw back, the Lord’s soul has no pleasure in him,” Hebrews 10:38; Jeremiah 22:28; Hosea 8:8; Malachi 1:10. He takes pleasure in those that abide with him. He sings to his church, “A vineyard of red wine: I the LORD do keep it,” Isaiah 27:2, 3; Psalm 147:11, 149:4. There is rest and complacency in his love. There is in the Hebrew but a metathesis of a letter between the word that signifies a love of will and desire (“‘ahav” is so to love), and that which denotes a love of rest and acquiescence (which is, “‘avah”); and both are applied to God. He wills good to us, that he may rest in that will. Some say, “agapain”, “to love,” is from “agan potestai”, perfectly to acquiesce in the thing loved. And when God calls his Son “agapeton”, “beloved,” Matthew 3:17, he adds, as an exposition of it, “en hoi eudokesa”, “in whom I rest well pleased.”
(2ndly.) The return that the saints make unto him, to complete communion with him herein, holds some analogy with his love in this; for it is a love also of rest and delight. “Return unto thy rest, my soul,” says David, Psalm 116:7. He makes God his rest; that is, he in whom his soul does rest, without seeking farther for a more suitable and desirable object. “Whom have I,” saith he, “in heaven but thee and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee,” Psalm 73:25. Thus the soul gathers itself from all its wanderings, from all other beloveds, to rest in God alone, — to satiate and content itself in him; choosing the Father for his present and eternal rest. And this also with delight. “Thy loving-kindness,” saith the psalmist, “is better than life; therefore will I praise thee,” Psalm 63:3. “Than life,” “michayim”, — before lives. I will not deny but life in a single consideration sometimes is so expressed, but always emphatically; so that the whole life, with all the concernments of it, which may render it considerable, are thereby intended. Austin, on this place, reading it “super vitas,” extends it to the several courses of life that men engage themselves in. Life, in the whole continuance of it, with all its advantages whatever, is at least intended. Supposing himself in the jaws of death, rolling into the grave through innumerable troubles, yet he found more sweetness in God than in a long life, under its best and most noble considerations, attended with all enjoyments that make it pleasant and comfortable. From both these is that of the church, in Hosea 14:3, “Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy”. They reject the most goodly appearances of rest and contentment, to make up all in God, on whom they cast themselves, as otherwise helpless orphans.
2ndly. The mutual love of God and the saints agrees in this, — that the way of communicating the issues and fruits of these loves is only in Christ. The Father communicates no issue of his love unto us but through Christ; and we make no return of love unto him but through Christ. He is the treasury wherein the Father disposeth all the riches of his grace, taken from the bottomless mine of his eternal love; and he is the priest into whose hand we put all the offerings that we return unto the Father. Thence he is first, and by way of eminency, said to love the Son; not only as his eternal Son, — as he was the delight of his soul before the foundation of the world, Proverbs 8:30, — but also as our mediator, and the means of conveying his love to us, Matthew 3:17; John 3:35, 5:20, 10:17, 15:9, 17:24. And we are said through him to believe in and to have access to God.
(1st.) The Father loves us, and “chose us before the foundation of the world;” but in the pursuit of that love, he “blesseth us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3, 4. From his love, he sheds or pours out the Holy Spirit richly upon us, through Jesus Christ our Savior, Titus 3:6. In the pouring out of his love, there is not one drop falls besides the Lord Christ. The holy anointing oil was all poured on the head of Aaron, Psalm 133:2; and thence went down to the skirts of his clothing. Love is first poured out on Christ; and from him it drops as the dew of Herman upon the souls of his saints. The Father will have him to have “in all things the pre-eminence,” Colossians 1:18; “it pleased him that in him all fullness should dwell,” verse 19; that “of his fullness we might receive, and grace for grace,” John 1:16. Though the love of the Father’s purpose and good pleasure have its rise and foundation in his mere grace and will, yet the design of its accomplishment is only in Christ. All the fruits of it are first given to him; and it is in him only that they are dispensed to us. So that though the saints may, nay, do, see an infinite ocean of love unto them in the bosom of the Father, yet they are not to look for one drop from him but what comes through Christ. He is the only means of communications. Love in the Father is like honey in the flower; — it must be in the comb before it be for our use. Christ must extract and prepare this honey for us. He draws this water from the fountain through union and dispensation of fullness; — we by faith, from the wells of salvation that are in him. This was in part before discovered.
(2ndly.) Our returns are all in him, and by him also. And well is it with us that it is so. What lame and blind sacrifices should we otherwise present unto God! He bears the iniquity of our offerings, and he adds incense unto our prayers. Our love is fixed on the Father; but it is conveyed to him through the Son of his love. He is the only way for our graces as well as our persons to go unto God; through him passeth all our desire, our delight, our complacency, our obedience. Of which more afterward.
Now, in these two things there is some resemblance between that mutual love of the Father and the saints wherein they hold communion.
(2.) There are sundry things wherein they differ: —
1st. The love of God is a love of bounty; our love unto him is a love of duty.
(1st.) The love of the Father is a love of bounty, — a descending love; such a love as carries him out to do good things to us, great things for us. His love lies at the bottom of all dispensations towards us; and we scarce anywhere find any mention of it, but it is held out as the cause and fountain of some free gift flowing from it. He loves us, and sends his Son to die for us; — he loves us, and blesseth us with all spiritual blessings. Loving is choosing, Romans 9:11, 12. He loves us and chastiseth us. (It is) a love like that of the heavens to the earth, when, being full of rain, they pour forth showers to make it fruitful; as the sea communicates its waters to the rivers by the way of bounty, out of its own fullness, — they return unto it only what they receive from it. It is the love of a spring, of a fountain, — always communicating; — a love from whence proceeds every thing that is lovely in its object. It infuseth into, and creates goodness in, the persons beloved. And this answers the description of love given by the philosopher. “To love,” saith he, “esti boulestai tini ha oietai agata, kai kata dunamin praktikon einai touton.” He that loves works out good to them he loveth, as he is able. God’s power and will are commensurate; — what he willeth he worketh.
(2ndly.) Our love unto God is a love of duty, the love of a child. His love descends upon us in bounty and fruitfulness; our love ascends unto him in duty and thankfulness. He adds to us by his love; we nothing to him by ours. Our goodness extends not unto him. Though our love be fixed on him immediately, yet no fruit of our love reacheth him immediately; though he requires our love, he is not benefited by it, Job 35:5-8, Romans 11:35, Job 22:2, 3. It is indeed made up of these four things: — 1. Rest; 2. Delight; 3. Reverence; 4. Obedience. By these do we hold communion with the Father in his love. Hence God calls that love which is due to him as a father, “honor,” Malachi 1:6, “If I be a father, where is mine honor?” It is a deserved act of duty.
2ndly. They differ in this: — The love of the Father unto us is an antecedent love; our love unto him is a consequent love.
(1st.) The love of the Father unto us is an antecedent love, and that in two respects: —
(1st.) It is antecedent in respect of our love, 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” His love goes before ours. The father loves the child, when the child knows not the father, much less loves him. Yea, we are by nature “Teostugeis”, Romans 1:30, — haters of God. He is in his own nature “filantropos”, — a lover of men; and surely all mutual love between him and us must begin on his hand.
(2ndly.) In respect of all other causes of love whatever. It goes not only before our love, but also any thing in us that is lovely. Romans 5:8, “God commendeth his love towards us, in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Not only his love, but the eminent fruit thereof, is made out towards us as sinners. Sin holds out all of unloveliness and undesirableness that can be in a creature. The very mention of that removes all causes, all moving occasions of love whatever. Yet, as such, have we the commendation of the Father’s love unto us, by a most signal testimony. Not only when we have done no good, but when we are in our blood, does he love us; — not because we are better than others, but because himself is infinitely good. His kindness appears when we are foolish and disobedient. Hence he is said to “love the world;” that is, those who have nothing but what is in and of the world, whose whole (portion) lies in evil.
Our love is consequential in both these
(1st.) In respect of the love of God. Never did creature turn his affections towards God, if the heart of God were not first set upon him.
(2ndly.) In respect of sufficient causes of love. God must be revealed unto us as lovely and desirable, as a fit and suitable object unto the soul to set up its rest upon, before we can bear any love unto him. The saints (in this sense) do not love God for nothing, but for that excellency, loveliness, and desirableness that is in him. As the psalmist says, in one particular, Psalm 116:1, “I love the LORD, BECAUSE!” so may we in general; we love the Lord, BECAUSE! Or, as David in another case, “What have I now done? is there not a cause?” If any man inquire about our love to God, we may say, “What have we now done? is there not a cause?”
3rdly. They differ in this also: — The love of God is like himself, — equal, constant, not capable of augmentation or diminution; our love is like ourselves, — unequal, increasing, waning, growing, declining. His, like the sun, always the same in its light, though a cloud may sometimes interpose; ours, as the moon, has its enlargements and straitenings.
(1st.) The love of the Father is equal, etc.; whom he loves, he loves unto the end, and he loves them always alike. “The Strength of Israel is not a man, that he should repent.” On whom he fixes his love, it is immutable; it does not grow to eternity, it is not diminished at any time. It is an eternal love, that had no beginning, that shall have no ending; that cannot be heightened by any act of ours, that cannot be lessened by any thing in us. I say, in itself it is thus; otherwise, in a twofold regard, it may admit of change: —
(1st.) In respect of its fruits. It is, as I said, a fruitful love, a love of bounty. In reference unto those fruits, it may sometimes be greater, sometimes less; its communications are various. Who among the saints finds it not (so)? What life, what light, what strength, sometimes! and again, how dead, how dark, how weak! as God is pleased to let out or to restrain the fruits of his love. All the graces of the Spirit in us, all sanctified enjoyments whatever, are fruits of his love. How variously these are dispensed, how differently at sundry seasons to the same persons, experience will abundantly testify.
(2ndly.) In respect of its discoveries and manifestations. He “sheds abroad his love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost,” Romans 5:5, — gives us a sense of it, manifests it unto us. Now, this is various and changeable, sometimes more, sometimes less; now he shines, anon hides his face, as it may be for our profit. Our Father will not always chide, lest we be cast down; he does not always smile, lest we be full and neglect him: but yet, still his love in itself is the same. When for a little moment he hides his face, yet he gathers us with everlasting kindness.
Objection. But you will say, “This comes nigh to that blasphemy, that God loves his people in their sinning as well as in their strictest obedience; and, if so, who will care to serve him more, or to walk with him unto well-pleasing?”
Answer. There are few truths of Christ which, from some or other, have not received like entertainment with this. Terms and appellations are at the will of every imposer; things are not at all varied by them. The love of God in itself is the eternal purpose and act of his will. This is no more changeable than God himself: if it were, no flesh could be saved; but its changeth not, and we are not consumed. What then? loves he his people in their sinning? Yes; his people, — not their sinning. Alters he not his love towards them? Not the purpose of his will, but the dispensations of his grace. He rebukes them, he chastens them, he hides his face from them, he smites them, he fills them with a sense of (his) indignation; but woe, woe would it be to us, should he change in his love, or take away his kindness from us! Those very things which seem to be demonstrations of the change of his affections towards his, do as clearly proceed from love as those which seem to be the most genuine issues thereof. “But will not this encourage to sin?” He never tasted of the love of God that can serious)y make this objection. The doctrine of grace may be turned into wantonness; the principle cannot. I shall not wrong the saints by giving another answer to this objection: Detestation of sin in any may well consist with the acceptation of their persons, and their designation to life eternal.
But now our love to God is ebbing and flowing, waning and increasing. We lose our first love, and we grow again in love; — scarce a day at a stand. What poor creatures are we! How unlike the Lord and his love! “Unstable as water, we cannot excel.” Now it is, “Though all men forsake thee, I will not;” anon, “I know not the man.” One day, “I shall never be moved, my hill is so strong;” the next, “All men are liars, I shall perish.” When ever was the time, where ever was the place, that our love was one day equal towards God?
And thus, these agreements and discrepancies do farther describe that mutual love of the Father and the saints, wherein they hold communion. Other instances as to the person of the Father I shall not give, but endeavor to make some improvement of this in the next chapter.