Sunday, August 11, 2013

Loving God

Guest message by Rev. John Emery Abbot:

The reading today is Mark 12:28-30: "And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'"

You've probably often considered the fullness and power of this teaching of our Savior. The variety of phrases used not only renders the command itself more forcible, but also guards against misunderstandings about of the kind of affection it requires. With the phrase, "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength," active, strong and permanent feelings are demanded; the next phrase "with all your mind," teaches that this love is to be rational, well-regulated, and such, in its causes and influences, as the soundest our understanding can muster; and when it's added "with all your strength," we're told that it's to be practical, to influence our ordinary conduct, to direct our exertions and employ our strength in works of obedience and duty.

"The most important," is the case because a devout regard to the Deity is the very foundation of all religion; because our obligations to the love of God are more numerous and more imperative than to any other duty; and because this command is more comprehensive in its nature, more important and universal in its influence, and more beneficial in its effects, than any other can be. (In other words, this is no light or inconsequential command.)

As a rule of conduct, the love of God will enter into every action, extend to feelings and to circumstances which laws can't reach, and easily decide in cases too minute or too complicated for any general directions to solve. It furnishes, too, a motive, which doesn't wait for deliberation or thought call it into action, which influences all other motives, and doesn't measure out its obedience narrowly, but automatically, in the service of God.

Lacking this, nothing can make up for it - obedience would be wavering and joyless. Isn't it wonderful, then, that Jesus teaches us, as the first command of his religion, "You shall love the Lord Your God."

Little observation is needed to convince us, that many misapprehensions prevail as to the nature and origin of the disposition enjoined in the text.

There are many, who consider all religious subjects as strange and mysterious. They consider the love of God as something inexplicable and incomprehensible, unlike all other affections, entirely beyond our power to acquire. And those of cooler minds see it as simply a regular discharge of outward duties, without any regard to the feelings and principles from which those duties spring. On the other hand, a fervid excitement of feelings, unaccountable zeal or a groundless and daring confidence, takes the place of that humble and rational affection, whose sincerity is tested only by the fruits of a pure and holy life.

In fact, there's nothing mysterious or inexplicable in that love of God enjoined by this teaching. It isn't kindled only by a miracle. It's not a passionate excitement, awakened mysteriously or supported by no reasons, unattainable by our efforts, or uncertain in its effects. Love of God is a feeling we all can understand, and which we all can acquire, and maintain. It's nothing surpassing our nature, or opposed to it. God has warmed and ennobled our hearts with certain affections which distinctly correspond to, and tend towards, their peculiar objects.

God has implanted in us original feelings of reverence, of gratitude, of esteem, of love. Whenever an object corresponding to these affections, and suited, by its nature, to motivate them, is presented with distinctness and force to the mind, these feelings are awakened. In this view, the love of God perfectly corresponds, in its nature, with the love of man. It's composed of the same affections, it arises from corresponding sources, and will be characterized by corresponding effects. In this view there is nothing mysterious, irrational, or unaccountable in the love of God. It arises simply from our being habitually impressed with those views of the character and agency of God, which are suited to call forth the sentiments of reverence, gratitude, esteem, and affection.

Contemplate the immensity of God's universe, and the myriads of known and unknown beings which people it with life. Don't you see here traces of perfection, which should fill you with reverence and awe?

Some people never think of God with this reverence and affection, because their views of His character are so unsettled, indefinite, and unworthy. Their concept of God pop into their heads randomly or by accidentally, and is formed carelessly. They don't take the time to think about God in a serious way, nor do they listen to the voices resounding through creation, that proclaim the majesty and mercy of its Author.

The more we acquaint ourselves with God, the more our views of His character lose their confusion and become more definite, consistent, and worthy. Then, we can look to him with sentiments of deeper reverence, and more confiding and fervent love.

If the goodness of God in this teaching is not sufficient, what do we think of His last and greatest gift: For us God gave his Son to be our instructed example and guide. For our sake, He gave him to be a persecuted sufferer from his birth in the manger of Bethlehem, till he slept in Joseph's tomb. Is there not here the best evidence of God's mercy to us?

Such are the feelings which unite to form the love of God, and such are the sources from which they spring. And in these views God is as distinct and intelligible an object of the affections, as a human benefactor or an earthly parent can be.

Rev. John Emery Abbot was an 1810 graduate of Bowdoin College. He was pastor of North Church in Salem from April, 1815 to October, 1819, when he died at the age of 26.

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