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Keep Yourselves in the Love of God

Category Articles
Date June 11, 2021

The following is an extract from Thomas Manton’s commentary on Jude.

* * *

Of all graces, love needs keeping. Why? (1) Because of all graces it is most decaying (Matt. 24:12, Rev. 2:4). Flame is soon spent, graces that act most strongly require most influence, as being most subject to abatement; we sooner lose our affections than anything else. (2) Because love is a grace that we can ill spare; it is the spring and rise of all duties to God and man. (1st) To God. Love is the first affection corrupted and renewed. The schoolmen dispute whether there be anything a man doth that hath not its first rise from love. It is love maketh us angry, and it is love maketh us hate (Ps. 97:10), and love maketh us grieve (John 11:35, 36), much more is it love that maketh us hope, and desire, and delight; so it is gracious love that sets us a-mourning for sin (Luke 7:47), puts us upon hatred of evil, delighting in God and in his laws (see 2 Cor. 5:14, 1 John 5:3, Gal. 5:6): ‘Faith worketh by love’, faith receiveth grace, and love exerciseth it. If we would do anything in the resistance of sin, in keeping the commandments, we cannot spare our love. (2d.) As to man. Love is a grace that will make us industrious for the good of others, and therefore we read of the ‘labour of love’ (1 Thess. 1:3). It is gluten animarum, the glue of souls, the cement and solder of the church; the jointing that runneth throughout all the living and squared stones (Col. 3:14); by this souls are mingled, and all mutual offices done cheerfully. Want of love to the saints is the cause of apostasy, for the less we love them the more we associate with the wicked, and then zeal is damnified and abated.

Well, then, watch the more earnestly against the decays and abate­ments of love; ‘leaving our first love’ is a disease not only incident to hypocrites, but sometimes to God’s own children. Christians go back­ward in the heat and light of their graces ten degrees, either through the badness of the times (Matt. 24:12), or through a cursed satiety that is apt to creep upon us. Affections are deadened to things to which we are accustomed. The Israelites cried out, ‘Nothing but this manna!’ Our desires are not so fresh and lively after long acquaintance. Sometimes it comes from negligence, or a sluggish carelessness, we do not take pains to keep graces alive, nor ‘stir up the gift that is in us,’ (2 Tim. 1:6): as the priests in the temple were to keep in the holy fire, so are we, by prayers and meditation and constant work, to keep our love alive; but when these exercises are neglected, it decreases. Sometimes it falls out through freeness in sinning. Neglect is like not blowing up the coals; sinning is like pouring on waters, a very quenching of the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). Again, through secure dalliance with the pleasures of sin, or cumbering the soul with the cares of the world; when the heart runneth out too much upon the creature, God is neglected. Thus it may fall out.

But now the decay of love is seen in two things — (1) The remission of the degrees of love; (2) The intermission of the acts of love.

1. A remission of the degrees, when the heart groweth cold, listless, and loose; when there is not such a strong tendency and bent of soul towards God as formerly, not such a sense of unkindness, such an awful respect to God, a care to please him, and desire to enjoy him, nor such complacency and delight in the thoughts of God. But now every loss or abatement of degree does not mount to a leaving of our first love; there are certain ravishments and transports of soul which we feel upon the first evidence of our being reconciled to God, or are stirred up upon other special occasions. These are accidental overflowings, which may come and go; we cannot always bear up under them; new things strangely affect us; love is afterward more settled and diffused in the channels of obedience, and therefore no wonder if it do not run with so full a tide and current. This remission of degrees, then, must be understood with respect to these constant dispositions of love, as care to please, fear to offend, desire of and delight in God; when these fail us to any degree, love is a-chilling or growing cold.

2. An intermission of the acts and exercise of love, when God is forgotten, duty neglected, sin unmortified, no care of or frequency in private communion with God, no sweet thoughts of him (Ps. 63:6; 104:34). Where we love there will be musing on the object beloved, there will be familiarity and intimateness of converse. There is not a day can pass but love will find some errand and occasion to confer with God, either to implore his help or ask his counsel. But now, when men can pass over whole days and weeks, and never give God a visit, such strangeness argues little love. Again, when there is no care of glorifying God, no plottings and contrivings how we may be most useful for him, when we do not mourn over sin as we were wont to do, are not so sensible of offences, have not these meltings of heart, are not so careful to avoid all occasions of offending God, are not so watchful, so zealous, as we were wont to be, do not rise up in arms against temptations and carnal thoughts, love is decayed. Certainly when the sense of our obligations to Christ is warm upon the heart, sin doth not escape so freely; love will not endure it to live and act in the heart (Titus 2:11, 12; Gen. 39:9). But now, as this is worn off, the heart is not watched, the tongue is not bridled, speeches are idle, yea, rotten and profane; wrath and envy tyrannise over the soul, all runneth to riot in the poor neglected heart; yea, further, God’s public worship is performed perfunctorily, and in a careless, stupid manner; sin confessed without remorse and sense of the wrong done to God; prayer made for spiritual blessings without desire of obtaining; wrath deprecated without any fear of the danger; intercession for others without any sympathy or brotherly love; thanks given without any esteem of the benefits or affection to God in the remembrance of them; conference of holy things is either none at all, or very slight and careless; hearing without attention; reading without a desire of profit; singing without any delight or melody of heart. All this is but the just account of a heart declining in the love of God.

Now as you love your souls beware of this great evil. To this end — 1. Be ‘rooted and grounded in love’ (Eph. 3:17). Do not content yourselves with flashes and good moods and meltings at a sermon, but get solid grace and thorough experiences: glances and sudden affections will come to nothing (Matt. 13:4, 5, with 20:21). A tree that hath taken root is in less danger of withering.

3. Increase and grow in love (1 Thess. 4:10). Nothing conduceth to a decay more than contentment with what we have received; every day you should love sin less, self less, world less, but Christ more and more.

4. Observe the first declinings, for these are the causes of all the rest. Evil is best stopped in the beginning; if, when we first began to grow careless, we had taken heed, then it would never have come to this. A heavy body moving downward, vires acquirit eundo, it gathers strength by running, and still moveth faster and faster. Look then to your first breaking off from God, and remitting your watch and spiritual fervour; it is easier to crush the egg than to kill the serpent. He that keepeth a house in constant repair prevents the ruin and fall of it; stop every hole and chink before the mischief spread further.

5. Plead with thy heart. The highest degree of love doth not answer the dignity of Christ, nor the duty that we owe to him; he is to be loved with ‘all the soul, and all the heart, and all the might.’ It is a disgrace to him to give him less; surely he looketh to be much loved again who hath loved us so entirely, and ‘translated us out of darkness into marvellous light.’

In case of decay, take the advice the Holy Ghost hath given you (Rev. 2:5), where three things are required — (1) Consideration; (2) Humiliation; (3) Reformation.

(1) Consideration: ‘Remember whence thou art fallen,’ ponder the case. In examination we compare ourselves and the law together, but in this recollection ourselves and ourselves together. Sadly consider then what a difference there is between thee and thyself, recall former experiences, and say as Job 29:2, 3, ‘Oh! that I were as in months past, in the days when God preserved me, when his candle shined on my head.’ Or as the church (Hosea 2:7), ‘It was better with me than now.’ In our serious sequestration and retirements we should have such thoughts as these are: — I was wont to spend some time every day with God; I remember when it was a delight to me to think of him; now I have no heart to pray or meditate, no relish of communion with his blessed majesty; it was the joy of my soul to be at an ordinance, the returns of the Sabbath were welcome to me; but now what a weariness is it! Time was when I had sweet experiences, and the graces of God’s Spirit were more lively in me, but now all is dead and inefficacious; time was when a vain thought was burdensome unto me, but now I can away with sinful actions; time was when the mispence of ordinary time was a grief unto my soul, now I can spend the Sabbath unprofitably and never be troubled, etc. Thus should you consider your estate.

(2) Humiliation, intimated in the word ‘repent’. It is not enough to know yourselves fallen; many are convinced of their collapsed and decayed estate, but do not judge themselves for it in God’s presence. Go, bewail it to God, smite upon the thigh, praying for pardon. That is the notion of the word repent here. It is not enough to repent of gross whoredom, theft, drunkenness; we must repent also of the decays of love. The blind world thinketh we are to repent of nothing but what is publicly odious. In friendship, coldness is taken for a great injury. Go, arraign thyself before God for growing cold in his love and service.

(3) Reformation: ‘Do thy first works.’ We must not spend the time in idle complaints. Many are sensible that do not repent; some may repent that do not reform; you must not be quiet till you recover your former station. Christ puts Peter upon a treble profession, because of his treble denial (John 21:17).

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