Evidences of the Lack of Love to God
Based on a Sermon by Samuel Davies, first preached in Hanover, Virginia; April 14, 1756
“But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.” John 5:42
Nothing seems to be a more natural duty for a creature; nothing is more essential to true religion; nothing more necessary as a principle of obedience, or a prerequisite for everlasting happiness; than the love of God; and this is, or at least used to be, universally acknowledged. Whatever is the object, or whatever is the religion, all acknowledge that the love of God is an essential ingredient in it.
If we considered only the excellency of God, and the many and wonderful blessings he pours out on all people, we would naturally think that all of mankind must therefore love God; and not one heart can be without that lively love of a child for his Father. But, how sad! if we consider the evidence of Scripture or our own eyes, we must come to a different conclusion. The love of God is a rare thing among his own offspring in our degenerate world.
Here in our text, a company of Jews, highly privileged above all nations then on earth, and claiming much regard for God, are charged with the lack of his love; charged by one who thoroughly knew them and could not be deceived. "I know that you do not have the love of God within you."
But, blessed be God, his love is not entirely extinct and lost even on our guilty globe. There are some hearts that feel real love for him, even among the degenerate sons of Adam.
These two kinds of people are very different with respect to their in their inward disposition; and God, who knows their hearts, makes a proper distinction between them. But in this world they are mixed: mixed in families, and in churches; and sometimes the eyes of their fellow mortals can see little difference. And they themselves, very often mistake their own true character, and count themselves in that class to which they do not belong!
While they continue in this mistake, the one cannot experience the pleasure either of enjoyment or hope; and the other cannot receive those warnings of danger which alone can rouse them out of their deadly security, nor earnestly use means to bring about love for God in their souls. To remove this mistake, is therefore a necessary and helpful attempt; helpful not only to the first kind, but even to those who are unwilling to submit to the search, and who shut their eyes against the light of all conviction.
There was a time in this land when the pure gospel rang often in large assemblies. Mr Davies reflecting on his ministry says: “I am afraid many of my hearers, especially in places where I have not frequently officiated, are excited to attend by curiosity, and not by an eager thirst for pious instruction. And while hearing, they are either staring with eager expectation to hear something new and strange, or they are lying in wait to catch at some word or sentiment to furnish them with matter for arguing or ridicule; or they stand on their guard, lest they should be caught and ensnared inadvertently to a sect, or seized with the infection of some false doctrine.
And thus all my labours,” he says, “and their attendance are in vain; and immortal souls perish in the midst of the means of salvation!”
But I tell you, once for all, you need not be drawn by an eager curiosity; for I have nothing new to communicate to you, unless it be a new thing to you to hear that the love of God is essential to a Christian, and an absolutely necessary pre-requisite to your salvation; and that you cannot be lovers of God, while your disposition and conduct have the evident marks of hatred or hostility to him.
Or, if arguing or ridicule is something you enjoy, then you are not likely to be gratified: for the things I have to say are too plain and convicting to be argued at by men of sense and sincerity, and too serious and important to be laughed at.
Nor is their any need for you to be cautiously on your guard; for I assure you, once for all, I have something else to do, than to come here to hang out baits to catch graceless proselytes to a sect, or to propagate the infection of some false opinion. I come here to use my poor endeavors to build up such of you as love God, in your most holy faith; and to reconcile such of you to him who as of now have no love for him. This is my published goal: and when you find that the drift and tendency of my labours here aim at something opposite to this, pronounce me a heretic, and reject me with justified abhorrence. This I not only allow, but invite and charge you to do!
The subject now before us is this: Since it is evident that some, under the profession of religion, have no true love of God; and since it is of the utmost importance that we should know our true character in this respect, let us investigate what are those marks whereby we may know whether the love of God dwells in us or not. Let us follow this investigation with impartiality and apply it to ourselves; and receive the conviction which may result from it, whether for or against us.
Now it is evident that the love of God does not dwell in you:
1. if the native hostility of your hearts against him has not been subdued;
2. if your thoughts and affections do not fix on him with peculiar affections, above all other things; If he is not first in your affections it is evident that the love of God does not dwell in you.
3. if you do not give him and his interests the preference over all things that may come in competition with him;
4. if you do not work to conform to him;
5. if you do not love to interact with him in his ordinances (his worship, The Lords Table, and baptism); and
6. if you do not make it the great business of your lives to please him by keeping his commandments.
1. First, The love of God is not in you if the native hostility of your hearts against him has not been subdued.
This will appear evident to everyone who believes the Scripture account of human nature, in its present degenerate state. By nature we are "children of wrath," (Eph 2:3) and certainly the children of wrath cannot be the lovers of God, while they are such. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," (John 3:6) "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God." (Rom 8:7) And so it is, that "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:8) Paul gives this character of the Colossians, in their natural state; and there is no reason to confine it to them: that they "once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds." (Col 1:21)
In short, it is evident from the consistent tone of the gospel, that it is a plan for reconciling enemies and rebels— to God. Therefore it is so often expressly called the ministry of reconciliation; and ministers are represented as ambassadors for Christ, whose business it is to beseech men, in his place, to be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:18-20)
But reconciliation presupposes opposition and alienation to God. From these things, it is evident, that, according to the Scripture account, the present state of nature is a state of estrangement and hostility against God. The authority of Scripture must be sufficient evidence to us, who call ourselves Christians. But this is not all the evidence we have in this case. This is a matter we can see through fact and experience. For I appeal to all of you that have the least self-knowledge, whether you are not conscious that your disposition, ever since you can remember, and consequently your natural disposition, has regularly been indisposed and estranged, or, which is the same, lukewarm and indifferent— towards the blessed God—whether you have had the same delight in him and his service, as in many other things— whether your earliest affections have fixed on him, with all the reverence and endearment of a child’s heart. You cannot but admit—that the answer to such questions will be against you, and convince you that you are by nature enemies to the God that made you, however much you have flattered yourselves to the contrary.
Now, it is most evident, that since you are by nature enemies to God, that your natural hostility to him must be subdued; or, in the language of the New Testament, you must be reconciled to him— before you can be lovers of him. And have you ever felt such a change of disposition? Such a change of disposition could not be brought about in you while you were asleep, or in a state of feeling nothing for God.
I will not say, that every one who has experienced this, is assured that it is a real sufficient change, and that he is now a sincere lover of God; but this I will say, and this is obvious to common sense— that every one who has really experienced this, is assured that he has felt a great change, of some kind or other, and that his disposition towards God is not the same now as it once was. This, therefore, may be a decisive evidence to you: If divine grace has never changed your disposition towards God— but you still continue the same, you may be sure the love of God is not in you.
And if this change has been brought about, you have felt it. It came right after a glaring conviction of your hostility, and the utmost horror and loathing of yourselves because of it. It came with heartfelt views of the attractive excellencies of God, and of your obligations to love him; and with those tender and affectionate emotions of the heart towards him, which the passion of love always includes. And it was followed with a cheerful universal dedication of yourselves to God and his service. And does conscience (for to that I now address myself) speak in your favor as to this? Listen to its voice— as the voice of God.
2. Secondly, It is evident, that you do not have the love of God in you— if your thoughts and affections do not fix upon him with peculiar affections above all other things.
This is obvious to common sense for you would not have boldness to profess to a person that you loved him— if, in the mean time, you have told him that he had little or no share in your thoughts and affections. You know by experience, that your affectionate thoughts will eagerly pursue the object of your love over wide-extended countries and oceans: and that in proportion to the degree of your love.
Now if you love God sincerely at all— then you love him supremely; you love him above all people and things in the universe. To offer an inferior love to supreme perfection and excellency is a grave insult! It is essential to the love of God, that it be before all, or regularly uppermost in your souls. Now if every degree of love will engage a proportionate degree of your affectionate thoughts, can you imagine, that you can love God in the highest degree— and yet hardly ever have one affectionate thought of him? Can you love him above all— and yet think of him with less endearment and frequency than of many other things that you love in an lesser way? Certainly, it is impossible.
And is it not as evident to some of you, as almost anything you know of yourselves, that your affectionate thoughts are not frequently fixed upon the blessed God? More than that, are you not conscious, that your thoughts fly off from this object, and pursue a thousand other things with more eagerness and pleasure? Certainly, by a little investigation— you may easily find out the usual course of your thoughts and affections, or their favourite object.
And why will you not push the investigation to a conclusion? Is there any matter of daily life and experience more plain to some of you than this— that God is not the object of your highest reverential love, and of your eager desires and hopes? Do you not know in your consciences, that you delight more in a thousand other things: Even, that the thoughts of him, and whatever forces serious thoughts of him upon your minds— are disagreeable to you—and that you turn every way to avoid them? Do you not know that you can give your hearts for days and weeks together, to pursue some favourite creature or business, without once calling them off, to think seriously and affectionately about the ever-blessed God? Are not even all the arts of self-flattery unable to keep some of you from discovering a fact at once so grievous, and so sad?
Well, if this is your case— then never pretend that you love God. You may have many commendable qualities— you may have many splendid appearances of virtue— you may have done many actions materially good: but it is evident when put to the test, that the love of God— the first principle and root of all true religion and virtue— is not in you.
3- Thirdly, The love of God is not in you, unless you give him and his interests the preference above all other things.
I have told you already, that if you love God at all in sincerity, you love him above all. And now, I add, as the consequence of this, that if you love him at all, you will give him and his interest the preference before all things that may come in competition with him. You will cling, with a pious obstinacy, to whatever he enjoins upon you, whatever be the consequence: and you will cheerfully give up all your other interests, however they may be dear to you, when they clash with his.
This you will do, not only in theory—but in practice. That is, you will not only allow him the chief place in your hearts—but you will show that you do allow him the supremacy there, by your regular practice. Please stop to examine yourselves by this test: for here lies the dangerous delusion of multitudes. Multitudes find it easy to flatter themselves, that they love God above all his creatures, while, in the meantime, they will hardly part with anything for his sake, that their deceiving heart draws them to.
But this is made the decisive test by Christ himself: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) By hating these dear relatives, and even life itself, Jesus does not mean positive hatred: for, in a secondary way, it is our duty to love them. But he means that every sincere disciple of his must act as if he hated all these—when they come in competition with his infinitely dearer Lord and Savior. That is, he must part with them all, as we do with things that are hateful to us. This was, in fact, the effect of this love in Paul. "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:7, 8)
Now, perhaps, this trial, losing all things, in its worst form, may never happen to you: though this is not at all impossible given the turmoil we see all around us, the rise of Islam, the loss of free speech and so many forms of evil being on such a definite rise. But though this severe trial should never come in your way—yet, from your conduct in lesser trials—you may judge how you would behave in the greater.
Therefore, ask yourselves, when the pleasures of sin—and your duty to God interfere—then which do you part with? When the will of God—and your own will clash—then which do you obey? When the pleasing of God—and the pleasing of men come in competition—then which do you choose? When you must give up with your carnal ease or applause among men—or violate your duty to God—then which has most weight with you? When you must deny yourself—or deny your Savior—then which do you submit to?
What is your regular conduct in such trying circumstances? Do you in such cases give to God and his interests the preference in your practice? If not, your pretended love is shown for what it is, a counterfeit. Please realize that it matters little in this case, what you profess, or believe in theory: but the grand question is—what do you normally do? And if you must be judged by this—is it not evident, that some of you do not have the love of God in you?
4- Fourthly, The love of God is not in you—if you do not work to conform to him.
Conformity to him—is at once the duty and the peculiar character of every sincere lover of God. "You shall be holy— for I… am holy," (Lev. 19:2; 21:8) is a duty repeatedly commanded. And all the heirs of glory are characterized as being "conformed to the image of his Son." (Rom 8:29) We naturally catch the manner and spirit of those we love. And so, if we sincerely love God—then we will naturally imitate him—we will love what he loves—and hate what he hates. We will imitate his justice, truthfulness, goodness, and mercy; or, in a word, his holiness. If we love him, nothing will satisfy us until we awake in his likeness.
Now, consider, does your love stand this test? Are you working to copy this divine pattern? Have you ever been renewed in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after the image of him who created you? And is it the honest endeavor of your life to be holy in all manner of conversation: to be as holy as God is holy? Can you be so bold as to pretend that you love him—while you do not desire and work to be like him? And while there is such an obvious aversion to being like him? The thought is delusive and absurd.
Since your conformity to him consists in holiness—then let me ask you to examine yourselves again. Do you delight in holiness? Is it the great business of your life to improve in it? and are your deficiencies, the burden of your hearts, and matter of daily lamentation and repentance to you? Alas! is it not as evident as almost anything you know concerning yourselves, that this is not your regular character, and, therefore, that the love of God is not in you?
5- Fifthly, You do not have the love of God in you—if you do not delight to interact with him in his ordinances.
You know yourselves, that sincere friends are fond of speaking to one another, and delight in each other's company. But people disaffected to one another, are shy, and strange, and keep away. Now God has been so condescending, as to give us his ordinances as so many places of dialogue for his people, where they may meet with him, or, in the Scripture phrase, draw near to him, appear before him, and carry on a spiritual fellowship with him. And so it is, that they delight in his ordinances: that they love to pray, to hear, to meditate, to commemorate the death of Christ, to obey him in baptism, and to draw near to the throne of grace in all the ways in which it is accessible. These appear to them, as not only duties—but privileges; exalted and delightful privileges, which sweeten their pilgrimage through this wilderness, and sometimes transform it into a paradise!
Now, will your love, stand this test? Have you found it good for you to draw near to God in these ways? Or are you not averse and uninterested in them? Do not some of you generally neglect them? or do you not participate in them with a bland, spiritless formality? Are not some of you prayer-less in private? And if you do attend public worship once a week—is it not rather that you may observe an old custom, or for some other reason than that you may converse with God and his ordinances? In short, is it not evident, that devotion is not your delight; and consequently not your daily practice?
How then can you pretend, that the love of God dwells in you? Can you love him—and yet be so shy of him, so alienated from him, and have no pleasure in drawing near to him, and conversing with him? This is contrary to the general character of every true lover of God. Every true lover of God is of the same spirit with David, who, in his banishment from the house of God, cries out in this heartfelt cry, "For God alone my soul waits in silence!" (Psalm 62:1) "O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water!" (Psalm 63:1) "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:1-2) This is certainly your character, if his love dwells in you.
6- Sixthly, The love of God is not in you, unless you make it the great business of your lives to please him by keeping his commandments.
It is natural to us to seek to please those we love; and to obey them with pleasure, if they are given authority to command us. But those whom we do not like, we do not try to please: or if we should be overawed and constrained by their authority to obey their commands, it is with reluctance and regret.
So, you see, if you sincerely love God, you will customarily keep his commandments, and that with pleasure and delight! But if you can routinely indulge yourselves in wilful disobedience in any one instance; or if the obedience you do yield to his commands is only by constraint—then it is a demonstration against you, that you are destitute of his love. This is as plain as anything in the whole Bible.
"If you love me," says Christ, himself, "you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
"If anyone loves me,—he will keep my word. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words." (John 14:23, 24)
"You are my friends—If you do what I command you." (John 15:14)
"This is the love of God," says John, "that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." (1 John 5:3) That is, keeping his commandments is not grievous—when love is the principle.
You see, then, that obedience, cheerful, unconstrained obedience, is the grand test of your love to God. There is more stress laid on this, in the Word of God, than, perhaps, upon any other test—and therefore you should pay all the more attention to it.
Now, think a moment, is there not at least some favourite sin—which you wilfully and knowingly indulge yourselves in? And are there not some self-denying mortifying duties—which you dare to neglect? And yet do you pretend that you love God? You pretend that you love him, though your love is directly opposite to this grand test, which he himself has appointed to test your love. You may have your excuses and evasions: you may plead the goodness of your hearts, even when your practice is sinful; you may plead the strength of temptation, the frailty of your nature, and a thousand other things; but plead what you will, this is an eternal truth, that if you habitually and wilfully live in disobedience to the commandments of God—then you are entirely destitute of his love! And does this not flash conviction on some of your minds? Does conscience not tell you just now, that your love does not stand this test?
And now, reviewing the matter as a whole—what do you think of yourselves? Does the love of God dwell in you—or does it not? that is, Do those signs of the lack of love belong to you—or do they not? If they do, it is all absurdity and delusion for you to flatter yourselves that you love him; for it is the same as if you should say,
"Lord, I love you—though my native hostility against you still remains alive.
I love you above all—though my thoughts and affections are scattered among other things, and never fix upon you.
I love you above all—though I prefer a thousand things to you and all that concerns you.
I love you above all—though I have no pleasure in spending time with you.
I love you above all—though I am not careful to please you!
That is, I love you above all, though I have on me all the marks of an enemy!
Can anything be more contradictory? Make such a profession of friendship as this to people around you, and see how they will take it! Will they believe that you really love them? Certainly not! common sense will teach them better. And will God, do you think, accept that as supreme love to him—which will not pass for common friendship among mortals? Is he capable of being deceived by such inconsistent pretensions? No! "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked!" (Gal 6:7) Draw the decisive conclusion, without any hesitation, that the love of God does not dwell in you!
And if this is your case, what do you think of it?
Consider what a monstrous soul you have within you—which cannot love God!
Which cannot love supreme excellence, and all perfect beauty;
which cannot love the origin and author of all the excellence and beauty that you see scattered among the works of His hands;
which cannot love your divine Parent, your Creator who sustains your very life;
which cannot love your prime Benefactor and gracious Redeemer;
which cannot love Him, in whom "we live and move and have our being,” (Acts 17:28) in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways, (Job 12:10) and who alone is the proper happiness for your immortal spirit;
You have a soul which can love a parent, a child, a friend, with all their infirmities about them—but cannot love God;
which can love the world; which can love sensual and even sinful enjoyments, pleasures, riches, and honors—and yet cannot love God;
which can love everything that is lovely—but not God, who is infinitely lovely;
which can love wisdom, justice, truthfulness, goodness, compassion, in creatures, where they come with many imperfections; and yet cannot love God, where they all center and shine in the highest perfection!
Seriously consider what a monster of a soul this is! Must it not be a devil—to be capable of such unnatural horrendous wickedness? Can you be easy, while you have such a soul within you? What a load of guilt must lie upon you!
If love to God is the fulfilling of the whole law—then the lack of love must be the breaking of the whole law. You break it all in one blow! Your life is but one continued, uniform, uninterrupted series of sinning!
In the words of Paul to the Corinthians, "if anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed!" (1 Cor 16:22)
The lack of love to God takes away all spirit and life from all your religious services, and spreads evil throughout all you do. Without the love of God: you may pray, you may receive the Lords Supper, you may perform the outward part of every duty of religion; you may be just and charitable, and never steal or cheat, and do no man any harm; you may be sober and temperate; but, without the love of God, you cannot do one action that is truly good and acceptable to God; for how can you imagine that He will accept anything you do, when He sees your hearts, and knows that you do it not because you love him—but from some other low, selfish principle?
If a man treats you well, and performs for you all the good offices of the sincerest friendship; yet, if you know in the mean time, that he has no real regard for you at all—but acts from some sordid, selfish purpose, are you thankful for his services, or do you love him in return? No! You abhor the deceiver, and secretly loathe his services. And will God accept of that as obedience from you, which he knows does not come out of love to him? No! And so it is, as Solomon tells us, that the prayers, the sacrifices, and even "the lamp of the wicked, are sin." (Prov 21:4)
Now, I appeal to yourselves—is not this a very dangerous situation? While you are destitute of sincere love of God—can you flatter yourselves that you are fit for heaven? Fit for the region of divine love? Fit to converse with a holy God, and live forever in His presence? Fit to spend an eternity in His service?
Can you be fit for these things—while you have no love for Him? Certainly not! You must see yourselves to be fit for destruction—and fit for nothing else! You are acting as devils already! Lack of love to God is the grand constituent of a devil, the worst ingredient in that infernal composition. And must you not then be doomed to that everlasting fire, which is prepared for the devil and his angels? Are you capable of hoping for better things, while the love of God is not in you?
And now, what must you do, when this shocking conviction has forced itself upon you. Must you now give up all hope? Must you now despair of ever having the love of God kindled in your hearts? Yes; you may, you must give up all hope, you must despair—if you go on, as you have done up until now—thoughtless, careless, and presumptuous in sin, and in the neglect of the means which God has appointed to implant and nourish this godly, heaven-born principle in your souls. This is the direct path to hopeless, everlasting despair.
But if you now sincerely acknowledge the conviction of your miserable condition; if you endeavor immediately to break off from sin, and from everything which tends to harden you in sin; if you turn your minds to serious meditation; if you bend you knee as humble earnest petitioners before God, and continue this moment in prayer; if you use every other means of grace ordained for this purpose; I can say that if you take this course—then there is hope—there is hope for you!
There is as much hope for you, as there once was for anyone of that glorious company of saints, now in heaven—for they were once as destitute of the love of God as any of you are now!
And will you make no effort to save your own souls from death? Many have taken more, to save the souls of others: and you have made great efforts to obtain the temporary, perishing enjoyments of this life. And will you make no effort for your own immortal souls?
The best, the kindest thing, I or anyone could ever do for you is to somehow get you to take this matter seriously—to turn your thoughts and efforts to this vastly important matter. The plain fact I must insist upon again: You cannot be saved without sincere love to God! And if you think of having hopes of heaven without it— even human common sense is against you. Therefore, seek to have the love of God poured into your hearts.
As for such of you, and I hope there are some among you—who love God in sincerity, I have only time to say to you. Go to your Bibles, and there you will find abundant consolation. I will only refer you to two passages, as examples.
"For those who love God all things work together for good" (Rom 8:28)
"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Cor 2:9)
This sincere love of God in your hearts is a surer pledge of your salvation, than an immediate voice from heaven could be. Heaven, the place of love, was prepared for such as you—and you need never dread to be excluded!